Background: There is little reliable information available on the working hours of general practitioners (GPs). The purpose of our study is to describe the development of weekly working hours of Norwegian general practitioners in the period from 2000 to 2008, as well as the length of their patient lists and their perceived workload.
Material and methods: General practitioners in the reference panel of the Research Institute of the Norwegian Medical Association have reported their weekly working hours for 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, and the length of their patient lists for 2002 and 2008. We used non-overlapping 95 per cent confidence intervals for testing inter-group differences in interval variables and proportions.
Results: From 227 to 316 general practitioners responded to each survey round. Average weekly working hours constituted 45.1 hours (95 per cent CI: 43.6-46.5 hours) in 2000 and 46.4 hours (95 per cent CI: 45.2-47.6 hours) in 2008. The number of hours increased for women GPs, while the number of hours remained basically unchanged for men from 2000 to 2008. Average length of the patient lists in 2002 and 2008 constituted 1,325 and 1,278 for men, and 1,155 and 1,144 for women GPs respectively. The proportion of GPs who responded that they perceived their workload as unacceptable decreased significantly, from 38.1 per cent in 2000 to 25.5 per cent in 2008.
Interpretation: Average weekly working hours for GPs increased by approximately one hour from 2000 to 2008, and this increase is found mainly among women GPs. We believe that the reduction in the proportion reporting to have an unacceptable workload can be explained by the introduction of the list-patient system, which has given the doctors better control of their own workload.