GPs are to pilot standing-up appointments to “set an example” to patients about the perils of a sedentary lifestyle.
Backed by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the study will also investigate whether doing so will shorten the length of consultations.
Starting in the Midlands, the pilot scheme will see family doctors equipped with £2,000 desks that can switch from sitting to standing formats at the push of a button.
A team from Loughborough University will then compare productivity data from the two different modes.
Despite supporting the study, the RCGP has warned that standing appointments may put some people off.
The researchers say it will only apply to adults and may not be appropriate for the frail, elderly, or when the patient is about to receive bad news.
However, they also believe the measure will benefit the health of GPs themselves, who by and large spend their days sitting down.
Researchers will ask around 500 GPs across the UK their views around introducing standing consultations in the new year.
In spring, a group of GPs in the Midlands will wear ActivPAL activity trackers on their thighs to provide objective data about their movements during and after the working day.
They will be given the desks to use in 30-40 half-day sessions over four to six weeks.
GPs will be asked about their wellbeing, productivity at work and activity level before and after they have used the desks.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGPs chairwoman, said: “Standing consultations could be an effective way of having productive and beneficial conversations with some of our patients, particularly around ‘lifestyle’ issues and highlighting the need for us all to reduce our sitting time and move more.
“However, we need to be mindful that the GP-patient consultation relies on high quality, face to face, communication and in some cases, this will not be achieved if the GP is standing while their patient is sitting down.”
The royal college has long campaigned for a minimum consultation time of 15 minutes.
The current average time is around 10 minutes.
The Loughborough team said the intention of the research is not to shorten consultation times in general, but that standing up may show that shorter slots are appropriate in some circumstances.
Amanda Daley, professor of behavioural medicine, said: “If you come in for a repeat prescription there’s no reason to sit, sitting just takes up more time, so it might be that for certain types of consultation it makes things quicker, and for others it’s just not appropriate.
“For example, if someone comes in for bad news or a cancer diagnosis, you might just want to sit.”
She added: “We need to find ways of getting GPs on their feet and moving more often.
“Standing consultations could help GPs to be more active, as well as highlighting to patients the importance of reducing and breaking up their sitting time.”
Recent research suggests that sedentary lifestyles could be causing 70,000 deaths in the UK a year.
Despite the potential benefits of the new scheme, Professor Stokes-Lampard warned: “There might be cases where it is appropriate for the GP and patient to carry out the consultation while they are both standing up, but for many of our patients who have complex needs or mobility problems, this will not be an option, and indeed some GPs will not be physically able to participate in this way.”