Time is an important resource in doctors' work, and how time is used can be an indicator of quality. The present study contributes to a more precise description of the work of psychiatrists, as clinicians, tutors, co-ordinators, consultants and administrators. The design is ?diary registration?, conducted over two weeks in 1994 and repeated in 1996, of the use of doctors' time, examining qualitative and quantitative aspects. The location of the study was Roskilde County Psychiatric Hospital ?Fjorden?, Denmark. One third of working time was spent on direct treatment and another 1/3 on indirect treatment. In general, there was a decrease from 1994 to 1996 in direct plus indirect treatment time from 63 to 55%, while administration increased from 17 to 22%. Further examination reveals that this change refers to administrative duties in community psychiatry. In general, quality improved between 1994 and 1996 when measured by the standardised criteria. However, too little time was still spent on each patient per session, according to these criteria. Fewer patients received psychotherapeutic treatment during the last study period and treatment mainly took place in community psychiatry where the doctors covered about 40% of all patient contact. More acute patients were received, more patients were admitted and there was a bigger turnover during the last period. Researching the use of doctors' time, with standardised criteria for specific interventions, provides a realistic and usable parameter for quality assurance research as well as a guideline for ?good clinical practice?. Doctors' working obligations in secondary service need to be redefined.