“How long does it take?” A mixed methods evaluation of computer-related work in GP consultations

James Hayward, Susan Buckingham, Fionagh Thomson, Heather Milne, Aziz Sheikh, Bernard Fernando, Kathrin Cresswell, Robin Williams, Hilary Pinnock


Background Systematic reviews have suggested that time spent on computerrelated tasks increases consultation length. However, these reviews pre-date the current ubiquitous use of computers in U.K. general practice.

Objective As part of a U.K. national study of the influence of information technology (IT) on the interaction between patients and healthcare professionals during consultations, we explored how IT functions affected time allocation and styles of computer use during general practitioner (GP) consultations.

Methods We drew on multichannel video recording of consultations and measured consultation phases and the duration of computer-related tasks. We related measures of actual time to GP’s interpretation of computer use elicited in qualitative interviews.

Results Our sample included recordings of 112 consultations from 6 GPs in three practices. The computer was used for about one-third of the greater consultation. However, its use was concentrated pre- and post- the patient consultation. The workflow of consultation was exemplified through six computer use cases. Most functionality was accepted and accommodated within the consultation, though disruptive and time-consuming tasks were generally delegated to administrative staff. Recognised styles of computer use (minimal, block and conversational) were apparent, but applied very flexibly by GPs according to the nature of the consultation.

Conclusions In contrast to earlier reports, contemporary computer use does not appear to have lengthened consultations. GPs adopted different styles of computer use in different consultations, challenging classifications that seek to stereotype GP computer use. Designing systems that support this versatility require an understanding of the fluid application of computer use within consultation structure.


Primary Care; Consultation; Information Technology; Computer use

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