Every morning at around 10.30am a screen message is circulated in our GP practice; “Coffee in 10 minutes?” The replies follow, “Yes, see you soon,” “Will be up as soon as I can,” ”Just dealing with a complicated patient.”
We have a dedicated 30 minute slot blocked for a coffee break every morning and have done for years. While I value this time, I almost don’t think about it anymore because it is such a part of my working routine. However, I was recently prompted to reflect on why this short break is so important.
General practice involves teamwork but a GP usually spends most of their day in isolation in their consulting room. This could become lonely, especially since our working patterns have changed due to the pandemic and we now spend hours on the phone and looking at a screen.
Stepping out of the consulting room each morning allows for social interaction with colleagues and an opportunity to get to know the team. It means that new colleagues settle in quickly. We have also found that colleagues who live alone have really appreciated the face to face contact with their “practice family” during the months of social isolation.
At a time when so many doctors are in distress, the coffee break gives us an opportunity to see how the team is managing; to see who is under pressure and who may need a helping hand. Everyone has their ups and downs and it is only by knowing your team that you can see the warning signs when colleagues are struggling.
During the coffee break we share practice related information, such as updates on staff absences, any changes to the working environment and, recently, covid related updates. It also makes the clinical team visible to the rest of the practice team so they can ask questions.
We also have clinical discussions within the medical team about difficult or interesting cases. Having different doctors involved allows you to share thought processes, see different management approaches, learn where to find relevant information, and share the decision making responsibility. Our practice pharmacist and members of the nursing team often join this meeting and having their expertise is, as one of our locums described it, “the icing on the cake”.
As GPs we care for patients and their families in the community. By talking to our colleagues we can learn even more about a patient and their family relationships. Someone who has known a patient for years can share that with the more recently joined members of the team. Discussing palliative care patients also allows for continuity of care. Having the opportunity to share the news that a patient has recently died, and who the bereaved family members are, helps us to better support our patients at distressing times in their lives.
Increasingly GPs have portfolio careers and we are not at work every day of the week. By meeting daily we can provide team unity when it comes to managing situations like frequent callers and opioid script requests so that patients receive a consistent response from the team.
I know that GPs are extremely busy at the moment, and you might ask how we have time to take a coffee break each day. We are a very busy practice situated in the east of Newcastle, and there are many days when we don’t feel we have time, but the long term benefits outweigh this, improving teamwork and morale.
Amy Gall is a GP in Newcastle, UK.
Competing interests: none declared.