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French doctors refuse to limit patients to 10 minutes

Doctors’ unions have opposed requests for them to see twice as many patients per hour.

They are being asked to see six an hour, up from the current three – meaning appointments would be limited to 10 minutes.

The aim is to deal with “medical deserts” – those parts of the country where there are not enough doctors.

By 2022, the government says it will partly fund 4,000 jobs for medical assistants to help with welcoming patients, taking blood pressure, making specialist appointments and billing.

Dr Jean-Paul Hamon, president of Fédération des Médecins de France, representing doctors in independent practice, said the state health insurance body had asked them to aim to see six patients per hour to benefit from those funded assistant places.

He said: “It was written on documents they gave us before a negotiation session. Everyone got annoyed. Yes, it is true, we sometimes see a patient in 10 minutes, but to see one every 10 minutes is impossible.”

He said the idea is that an assistant could collect the patient from the waiting room, take their blood pressure and ask basic questions while the doctor is seeing the previous patient and writing their prescription.

He said this would not help him because “I can tell a lot about the patient’s state of health from the way they get up from their seat, or the way they move, or how they climb on to the examination table”.

They would need extra rooms for the assistants, which is not cost-effective in places where property values are high, he said.  It would also be a “different kind of medicine” where “you’ve no time to talk to people, it’s an assembly line”.

In reality, he said it takes time to find out what is happening in a patient’s life. “Someone might come in saying they’re tired, but later it comes out that they’re being harassed at work and they feel undervalued. You don’t find that out in three minutes.

“Often you think the consultation is over, then they suddenly open up and it’s off again.”

Dr Hamon said “assistant” places should just correspond to extra medical secretaries. There is no need to create a new role.

Many doctors at present cannot afford a secretary at all, especially sole practitioners, as opposed to doctors who work together and share one.

Negotiations are continuing this month.

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