Patients May Delay, Forgo Care Due to Misconceptions about Physicians

Some patients may feel that they are wasting their primary care physician’s time.

Patients may delay seeing their primary care physician or forgo the visit altogether over concerns they are wasting the physician’s time, according to a new study published by Social Science and Medicine.

The authors said that the topic of wasting their general practitioner’s (GP) time came up so many times in interviews regarding primary care that they decided to examine it more in-depth.

“‘Am I wasting the doctor’s time?’ is a question that many patients ask themselves when deciding whether or not to visit the doctor,” said lead researcher Nadia Llanwarne, MBChB. “We already knew that this worry existed among some patients, but this is the first study entirely dedicated to the subject that reports the existence of this worry among a variety of patients, young and old, healthy and sick, visiting their GP for a wide range of complaints.”

In the study, the authors filmed patient consultations with their GPs, and conducted interviews with 52 patients who were discussing surgery. In the follow-up interviews, the investigators discovered the prevalent issue of wasting time.

There were 3 common thoughts across all patients regarding primary care: the experience of a conveyor belt approach, the perception that other patients waste time, and uncertainty of what is worth their GP’s time, according to the study.

“Recognising [sic] this worry about timewasting among patients is important because it could influence whether a patient chooses to see the doctor or not,” Dr Llanwarne said. “If a patient decided to hold off seeing the doctor for fear of wasting resources, this could have serious implications for their health.”

When the authors asked about concerns surrounding timewasting, patients cited the pressured nature of consultations, such as the demand for services, NHS’s limited resources, lack of time, and busy physicians, according to the study.

Since they understood the time constraints their GPs have, the patients described how this impacted their decision whether or not to see their GP.

In the UK, the NHS has focused campaigns on the appropriate and inappropriate utilization of healthcare services due to limited resources. Physicians have also stated that many patients seek unnecessary care, labeling them “timewasters,” which is a growing concern as evident by these findings, according to the study.

“Patients are keen to avoid this label, but neither the patients, nor the doctors, are able to clearly define what precise problems might attract such a label,” Dr Llanwarne said. “This is because some patients will present with what seems on the surface a minor problem, but once through the door of the doctor’s consulting room, they may open up about more serious complaints. With some symptoms it may be very difficult for the patient to know whether these are serious enough or not to need review by the doctor.”

In some cases, patients may not seek care from their GP because they do not feel their problem is worth the time. This could lead to worsening health conditions that could have been avoided.

“It’s important for patients to not delay contacting their doctor simply because of worry about wasting doctors’ time. And it’s important for doctors to be attentive to the fact that many patients will be worried about this,” Dr Llanwarne concluded. “Doctors can then ensure they allay patients’ concerns when they do seek help.”