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Access to primary care services is one of the key components of the NHS Plan which states that patients should be able to see a health professional with 24 hours and a GP with 48 hours. However, it is not clear how patients value speed of access in comparison with other aspects of primary care.
To investigate patient preferences when making an routine appointment for a GP, and to describe the trade-offs and relationships between speed of access, choice of time and choice of doctor in different patient groups.
Discrete choice experiment.
Adults consulting a GP in six general practices in Sunderland
Choice sets based on three attributes (time to appointment, choice of time, choice of doctor) were presented in a self-completion questionnaire.
We obtained 6985 observations from 1153 patients. We found that the waiting time to make an appointment was only important if the appointment is for a child or when attending for a new health problem. Other responders would trade-off a shorter waiting time and be willing to wait in order to either see their own choice of doctor or attend an appointment at their own choice of time. For responders who work, choice of time is six times more important than a shorter waiting time and they are willing to wait up to 1 day extra for this. Those with a long-standing illness value seeing their own GP more than seven times as much as having a shorter waiting time for an appointment and will wait an extra 1 day for an appointment with the GP of their choice, women will wait an extra 2 days, and older patients an extra 2.5 days.
Speed of access is of limited importance to patients accessing their GP, and for many is outweighed by choice of GP or convenience of appointment.