Dharani Yerrakalva: The art of not running behind

There’s a guilty pleasure in something I call “the art of not running behind.” For me, each surgery starts at time zero when I am on time for the first patient. This is a crucial marker for my day.

Each primary care doctor has their own speed. I have worked in various practices across the UK, and I have seen other GPs regularly running up to an hour behind. I am horrified by the thought that this might eventually happen to me.

The computer system doesn’t help. Has it been designed to instill fear into GPs?  When patients arrive their names flash up pink. On occasion my patient list screen glows pink with five patients waiting to be seen by 11am.  At these times I start imagining a graph depicting my rising cortisol levels. I wonder, will the pink flashing screen replace the role that the hospital bleep had in my nightmares?

Thankfully most patients understand when we run late; I can see their eyes soften with pity as I apologise. But the battle to stay on time still takes its toll. Mid-morning break goes first, then hydration is sacrificed, then food intake.

Will I get used to this perpetual struggle the longer I am a GP? Will the number of patients I need to see every 10 minutes reduce?

Will the patients become less complex? Or do I need to resolve that, in order to do my best, I need to take more than the allotted time?

I look down at my screen. Only one patient waiting, and it’s 1130. Relief floods over me. Today looks like it will be one of those days I get to eat lunch, treat patients appropriately, and satisfy my desire to be punctual.

Dharani Yerrakalva is an academic GP in Cambridge, UK

Competing interests: none declared