Background: Although most aspects of the consultation have been extensively reported there is very little information on the effects of interruptions on the consultation.
Objective: We wished to discover the patients' view of interruptions.
Methods: In this pilot study the sources and frequency of interruptions to the consultations of a single general practitioner were measured. The effects of interruptions on 102 patients whose consultations were interrupted were then ascertained using a simple questionnaire.
Results: The overall interruption rate was found to be 10.2%. The telephone was the commonest source of interruption, accounting for 50% of interruptions. Although most patients did not perceive the interruption as having an important effect on the consultation, 20% of patients did feel that the interruption had a bad effect on the consultation and 40% of patients felt it would have been better not to have been interrupted. A majority of patients (52%) did not feel that the reason for the interruption was important. Although most patients did not feel affected by the interruption, a significant minority (18%) of patients had a strongly negative emotional response to the interruption.
Conclusions: In view of these findings the need for further work has been highlighted.