Truth or Fallacy? Three Hour Wait for Three Minutes With the Doctor: Findings From a Private Clinic in Rural Japan

Asia Pac Fam Med. 2010 Nov 23;9(1):11. doi: 10.1186/1447-056X-9-11.


Introduction: While previous reports examine various aspects of Family Medicine in Japan, there is sparse research on consultation lengths. A common phrase permeates throughout Japan, sanjikan machi, sanpun shinsatsu that means, "Three hour wait, three minute visit." The purpose of this study is to examine consultation length in Japan, and how it is affected by patient variables.

Case description: We conducted a case study of consultation length and how it varies in relation to the demographics, presenting illness, and diagnoses at a rural clinic in central Japan. Data were coded according to the standards of the International Classification of Primary Care. Descriptive statistics were obtained to identify features of the data. Further, regression analysis was performed to characterize and to quantify the association between length of consultation and various subject level characteristics.

Discussion and evaluation: A total of 263 patients aged 0 - 93 years old had consultations during the 8-day study period. The mean consultation duration was 6.12 minutes. Of all consultations, 11.8% lasted 3 minutes or less. The mean (median) consultation time among males was 6.29 (5.2) minutes and among females was 6.03 (5.4) minutes. The duration of visits increased with age. Among different International Classification of Primary Care categories, psychological issues required the most time (mean = 10.75 min, median = 10.9 min) while urological issues required the least (mean = 5.08 min, median = 4.9 min). The majority of cases seen in the clinic were stable, chronic conditions and required shorter consultation times.

Conclusions: While the mean and median consultation length in this study extends beyond the anecdotal three minutes, the average length of consultation is still remarkably short. Trends affecting consultation length were similar to other international studies. These data present only one aspect of primary care delivery in Japan. To better understand the significance of consultation length relative to the delivery of primary care, future research should examine issues such as continuity, frequency of consultations over time and comprehensiveness of care.