NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Doctor Will See You For Longer Now

January 19, 2001

Contrary to popular belief, doctors are actually spending more time with each patient, on average, than in the past. This finding contradicts public perceptions that managed care has pushed doctors to spend less time with patients in order to increase their productivity.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • Between 1989 and 1998 physicians' office visits increased from 677 million to 797 million.
  • The average duration of an office visit in 1989 was 16.3 minutes according to one government survey and 20.4 minutes according to another.
  • According to both sets of data, the average duration of visits increased by between one and two minutes between 1989 and 1998.

There was an upward trend in the length of visits for both primary and specialty care and for both new and established patients. The average length of visits remained stable or increased for patients with the most common diagnoses and for those with the most serious diagnoses.

These estimates are based on the actual amount of time that doctors and patients are together in the room. Part of the explanation may be increased competition in the health field, and that more services are being offered.

Source: David Mechanic et al., "Are Patients' Office Visits with Physicians Getting Shorter?" New England Journal of Medicine, January 18, 2001.


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