The time-efficiency principle: time as the key diagnostic strategy in primary care

Fam Pract. 2013 Aug;30(4):386-9. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmt007. Epub 2013 Mar 27.


The test and retest opportunity afforded by reviewing a patient over time substantially increases the total gain in certainty when making a diagnosis in low-prevalence settings (the time-efficiency principle). This approach safely and efficiently reduces the number of patients who need to be formally tested in order to make a correct diagnosis for a person. Time, in terms of observed disease trajectory, provides a vital mechanism for achieving this task. It remains the best strategy for delivering near-optimal diagnoses in low-prevalence settings and should be used to its full advantage.

Keywords: Continuity of care; diagnostic tests; patient safety; primary care; quality of care..

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards
  • Diagnostic Services* / standards
  • Diagnostic Services* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primary Health Care* / methods
  • Primary Health Care* / organization & administration
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Symptom Assessment / methods
  • Symptom Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Management / organization & administration*