Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
January 21, 2021
2 min read

Average primary care exam lasts less than 20 minutes

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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In 2017, the average length of a primary care exam in the United States was about 18 minutes, an analysis of more than 21 million primary care visits showed.

Data further showed that exams scheduled to last only 10 minutes often exceeded that time, while exams scheduled to last 30 minutes often ended early, demonstrating “scheduling inefficiencies in both directions,” Hannah Neprash, PhD, BA, an assistant professor in the division of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote.

The average length of primary care exam is 18 minutes.
Reference: Neprash HT, et al. Med Care. 2020;doi:10.1097/MLR.0000000000001450.

The researchers analyzed deidentified data from 21,010,780 office visits using athenahealth, a cloud-based health care information technology company that provides administrative support to physician practices in the United States. The data were refined to account for clinical multitasking and exclude exams with non-real-time electronic health record use — defined as office visits without exam timestamps, visits where exam timestamps signified a length of 0 minutes, visits where exams appeared to start and stop on different days and exams with a starting or ending exam timestamp more than 2 hours after the scheduled time. The analysis also excluded visits that happened from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The findings, published in Medical Care, indicated that PCPs spent an average of 18 minutes and a median of 15 minutes with their patients. On average, exams ran later than their scheduled duration by 1.2 minutes. Specifically, visits scheduled for 10 minutes surpassed allocated time (mean exam time = 15 minutes; median exam time = 12 minutes) more often than visits scheduled for 20 minutes (mean exam time = 20.6 minutes; median exam time = 18 minutes) or 30 minutes (mean exam time = 23.6 minutes; median exam time = 21 minutes).

“The accurate measurement of exam length can facilitate many goals, from improving payment accuracy (particularly the accuracy of common evaluation and management services for which billing is based on either medical decision making or time spent with a patient) to better understanding the relationship between exam length and quality of care,” Neprash and colleagues wrote.

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