Today I want to give you some insider insight and tips from my perspective, not only as a young woman (can I still say that now I’m thirty?!,) but as one that also happens to be a GP. One of the things that has surprised me the most since I have come out of the closet and revealed my job, is the relationship that other people have with their family doctor. Because most of all, that’s what I think of myself as. I see people as kids, then as young women who need contraception, through their pregnancy and if I’m lucky I get to do the six week check on their new baby. Even though I haven’t been practicing that long, I’ve already enjoyed giving that continuity of care. It’s made me sad on occasion to hear that other people don’t feel satisfied with the experience they have at their GP’s. I guess because a lot of my training focuses heavily on communication skills and I’ve been lucky enough to work at some great practices, I forget there are perhaps practices out there that don’t suit some of their patient population as well. Whilst I’m definitely not opening the door here to hear your opinion of your GP, I do think that I might have some tips for you to help you get more out of your experience of going to see the GP.
Snapped on my last visit to the GP, this poem tickled me! Supplied by Poems in the Waiting Room, a registered charity supplying leaflets with poetry to hospital waiting rooms across the country.
So here goes…
Tell them why you’re there.
This might sound obvious but it’s a well documented phenomenon that people often save the important problem they want to discuss until the end of the consultation. It’s known as the ‘door handle problem’, when they turn back as they’re about to leave and say ‘and I also found a breast lump…‘ It goes without saying we would much rather have dealt with that first rather than checked your ears for wax. Psychologists think people often do this because they ‘test’ the GP with something that isn’t important to them and when they feel the GP is trustworthy and won’t laugh/tell them off, they open up about the more important problem.
If you’ve got a list, ‘fess up.
I understand. You’re busy, it’s a nightmare to get an appointment, let alone one that fits in with your working hours and once you have got it, you value the opportunity to quickly discuss a couple of minor niggles you have. If you come in and confess, we can often decide on the spot if it’s feasible for us to get through all of that in the 10 minute appointment we have available. Honestly, this is not about us running to time. It’s about doing your problems justice and having the available time to address them all adequately. Sometimes, a mole that needs the once over, an itchy toe and a quick look in your throat can take a few minutes max and we’ll get through them all, but if you’re really worried that mole is skin cancer and you want to know why I think it’s normal and find out how to keep an eye on it yourself at home, I can’t do that without rushing you AND do the other things properly in 10 minutes. Most surgeries will let you book a double appointment if you have several things to discuss, or come back – we really don’t mind seeing you again!
Don’t read about your problems on the internet.
This should come with the sub-heading ‘or if you’re going to, read a reputable source.‘
Again, I get it, you’re educated and why shouldn’t you read up on a problem that is affecting you? I bet you’re thinking you might not need to go to the doctors after all right? In an ideal world that would be the case but in reality one of 2 things will happen. The internet is a scary place and when it comes to medical information there are 2 broad categories it fits into. The professionally written sites, and opposite. Even professionally written sites, like NHS direct for example have to cover their backs. Any bit of information will be prefaced by a disclaimer and no doubt a list of reasons why you should disregard the forthcoming information and see your GP to get checked out anyway. If that’s not enough to make you think the worst, then I don’t know what is.
The second option is that you read a non-professional site where people share their personal experinces. There’s nothing worng with poeple doing that, the problem is the unintended influence it has on people who read it – that’s you by the way. Every patient is very different, from the subtlties of their medical history to the social and personal factors that may have influenced the doctors choice of treatment for them. There are guidelines and protocols for so many conditions but as doctors, we then use our knowledge of the guidelines and evidence and balance it with our knowledge of the patient as an individual. For example, someone with a hectic shift pattern for a job might not be suited to a medication like the pill that needs to be taken regularly and jump at the chance to try a method that they can forget about for a longer period of time. That’s just an example but I hope it illustrates why nothing substitutes actually talking to your doctor.
My favourite site for patients to use to read up on their problems (once diagnosed,) is Patient.co.uk. I use it as a professional, but there are tons of patient leaflets there with clear and thorough explanations about many conditions.
I’m going to leave it there for now, but as and when the thoughts occur to me I’ll add more. In the meantime, if there’s something about doctor-patient etiquette that you’ve always wondered about then fire away, or just let me know if this post has been helpful. I’ll put my best GP hat on and see if I can explain some things for you.