The average time a patient gets with their GP is eight to 10 minutes. Every second counts – so here are top tips from BootsWebMD on getting the best from your doctor.
Dr Graham Archand is a spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs. “If you think that your condition is going to be very complex, it might be worth asking for a double appointment,” he says.
Get to the point
Your time with your GP will soon slip by if you get sidetracked. Make notes beforehand to make sure that you cover everything you want to discuss. However, Dr Archand says there is still time for a nice chat in today’s busy NHS: “There has to be a bit of pleasantry involved. That’s what makes the world go round.” He says it is especially important when patients are nervous: “If it takes a little bit longer for one patient than another, then that’s general practice.”
And another thing…
Don’t go in to see your GP about one thing then ask about another. Some surgeries have a strict one appointment, one condition rule to keeps things moving and avoid holds-ups. “If you have several problems, start with the most important one,” Dr Graham Archand advises, but do mention other concerns to the GP. “They might say most of those are inter-related.”
One at a time please!
They’re called family doctors for a reason, GPs like to see the whole family, but still like to treat them one at a time. “You’re wrapping up,” but then Dr Archand has heard, “‘While I’m here, can you look at little Johnny or can you speak to my husband?'” Don’t bring the baby in with a cough and then ask for your wart to be looked at. “If I do that then everyone outside has got to wait.
“Be well informed but don’t self-diagnose; if you do, you can come a cropper,” Dr Archand warns. For a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, after a diagnosis, “I’m perfectly happy that they know as much, if not more about it than I do.” He worries about patients getting false reassurances in some cases, when: “Those symptoms to the qualified person might mean something very much more sinister”. Alternatively, he says patients may look up other things and “get absolutely terrified”. He says if diagnosis was as easy as a Google search, “It wouldn’t take a minimum of 10 years to qualify as a GP”
You’ll still see GPs popping from house-to-house to see patients – if you watch old black-and-white films. Home visits take up a lot of a GP’s time – travelling when they could be seeing patients at the surgery. “I have been telephoned in the middle of the night to be told by a patient they could not sleep, and could I bring a sleeping tablet round for them,” Dr Archand recalls. Only ask for a home visit when you really need it: “We’re always happy to visit patients who are too unwell to come to the surgery, but not having your own transport is not a reason for a home visit.”
Seeking medical advice
These days there are plenty of ways to get NHS medical advice without having to wait to see your GP. If you or a relative are unwell, there’s NHS 111 in England, NHS 24 in Scotland and NHS Direct in Wales. Nurses can help assess symptoms and even call an ambulance if necessary. For minor health complaints the pharmacist is a good source of professional advice and will recommend consulting a doctor when this is necessary.
GPs are not referees
You may be tempted to use your GP as a referee, but don’t drag a spouse, child or stroppy teenager in to settle an argument. We shouldn’t be involved in arguments.” He says it puts GPs in a difficult position, when they need the trust of every member of the family.
What did she say these are for?
Don’t walk out of the surgery with your prescription with no idea what your medicine is for and what any side effects might be. “That’s the doctor’s fault, not the patient’s fault,” Dr Archand says. Ask if you don’t understand: “People are told an awful lot in the doctor’s surgery,” he says. “If you don’t understand, you jolly well should ask.”
Don’t be embarrassed
There’s no need to be embarrassed. “We’ve seen it all before,” Dr Archand says. “There’s no way that any doctor is going to sit in judgement.” Don’t be afraid to ask to see a different doctor for a sensitive issue – such as a female GP if your usual doctor is a man. “There are a lot of young people in puberty who think there’s something wrong with their genitals and things, and they get very upset and very worried about it,” he says. “You can put them right.”
Don’t ignore what they say
Don’t Ignore what your GP says. They’re not saying you should lose weight, quit smoking or drink less just to spoil your weekend. “It’s not my job to stop people smoking. My job is to inform people of the risk,” Dr Archand says. “There’s lots of things we can do to help you cut down,” he says “If people don’t accept advice, one has to ask why they bothered to come along in the first place.”
Top tip for getting the most out of your GP
What’s Dr Archand’s top tip for getting the most out of your GP? “You should treat your GP as a friend,” he says. “You’ve got to like your patients, they’ve got to like you.” And if not? “If you don’t get on with your doctor, change. Find someone you do get on with.” The doctor you didn’t get on with won’t miss you,” he says, “and you won’t miss them”