10 ways to get the best from your GP

Some time ago I was sat in the waiting room at my GP surgery waiting for my prescription to be dispensed.  I was sitting next to the most adorable gentleman who I guess was in his early eighties.  We got chatting and he revealed to me that he was nervous about seeing the GP and was hoping he would get the right treatment for his foot which was causing him immense pain.  He was next in the queue so I didnt have more thn a couple of minutes to help him.  I asked him what was bothering him the most about his foot and he replied that it was so painful it kept him awake at night and he didnt know why it was hurting so much.  I told him to say exactly that to the GP and to think of how painful it was on a scale of 1 to 10.  He was then called in to see the GP - He smiled and said "thank you - god bless ya"  

Getting the best out of your GP is not easy.  Your appointment is around 10 minutes and given that we are all unique individuals, it is a very short space of time, therefore you need to utilise that 10 minutes to ensure you get the best outcome for you.  In August 2017, 'Which' published an article with some advice.  They interviewed 15 GPs to gather their tips and know how and what they ae really thinking when you are in the consultation chair. 

Using this and my own conversations with GPs in my job, here are 10 ways to get the best from your GP.

1. Love your Receptionist

In my opinion the days of the receptionists being the dragons of the surgery are numbered.  What you need to understand is that the surgeries are now run as a business.  They have to hit certain targets set by the NHS and are penalised financially if these targets are not met.  Patient satisfaction is a key criteria.  I understand how irritating they can be when they are quizzing you about the urgency of your appointment.  GPs see 30 to 40 patients a day and according to 'Which' 20% of them could have seen someone else e.g. the nurse.

Try not to get annoyed when they ask if it is urgent.  The receptionist does not expect you to be the judge of how serious your illness is.  That is the job of the GP.  They are asking if you are ok to wait for a non urgent appointment.  YOU make that decision.  Dont think about how busy they are - if it is urgent you see a GP then say yes.  

In my experience, It is in your interest to get to know the receptionists.  Be assertive but friendly and they will look after you.

2.  See the right person for your treatment.

Surgeries are now run as healthcare centres with a healthcare team consisting of GPs (some with specialist interests), nurses (some are specialist nurses in respiratory or diabetes and some are nurse practitioners which means they can prescribe medication) and healthcare assistants who can take blood or do cholesterol checks etc.  The receptionist should know each healthcare professionals special interest so they can direct you to the right person.

If you have an unsolved problem or multiple chronic illnesses, it is best to see the same GP for continuity.  

3. Think like a GP

When your GP asks 'how are you today' he is not making small talk and asking what is on your agenda for the rest of the day.  What he is really asking is why you are there and what is the main focus of your appointment.   They may ask "What were you hoping I would do?" dont start to panic, thinking they haven't got a scooby do (clue). They are trying to understand what expectations you have so they can best meet them.  Are you looking for reassurance or treatment? I would make a list before you go to the surgery of your symptoms and the outcome you require.  Obviously not chapter and verse but short and to the point.

4. Prioritise your symptoms

 When GPs were asked what they find difficult in patient appointments, they replied the "hand-on-the-doorknob" scenario.  They have spent ten mins talking about your verruca and now as you pull your sock back on, you mention something that raises serious concerns and cannot be left until next time.  So before you arrive, know what is priority and affecting your health right now and start your discussion with that.

5. Get to the point

Your first sentence should be a summary of why you are there.  Your GP does not expect you to come with a diagnosis but they do need to know your symptoms.  Say "I have a cough and fever" rather than "I think I have a chest infection".  Try not to be vague - "I have a really bad headache" try to describe how it is feeling.  Pain is different for each individual and a GP cannot measure it.  They use a scale of 1 to 10 - so before your appointment think about how your pain would be described on a scale of 1 to 10 - 1 being no pain and 10 the worse pain you could imagine.  

Know before you go in what your expectations are to avoid leaving without the answers you were looking for.  Do you want reassurance? A certain medicine? A private referral? Are you worried you may have something serious?

6. Give a recap

If you are at the surgery to discuss some test results, tell them!  e.g. "I have been feeling very tired so you organised some tests for me" 

One GP told me "Patients seem to think we have had half hour to read through there whole 50 years medical notes. No way!! We literally open the notes and call them in!

7. What happened when

It would help if you could explain what has happened, in what order and over what period of time.  Also when you last felt well.#

8.  Its ok to suggest treatment ideas.

If you have read about a new drug that you would like to try, write down some of the specifics to share with your GP.  However be aware there are guidelines and protocols which they are advised to follow.  If the drug you hve researched is not on the guidelines, it would be difficult but not impossible for the GP to prescribe.

9. Check your understanding

It is the GPs job to make sure you are happy with the outcome so hopefully you have agreed a way forward. Just to make sure you have understood, it would be a good idea to repeat back to the GP what you have agreed or even ask him to write it down.

The GP should also do what is known as "safety netting".  This is where the GP will make sure you know what to do if things get worse.

This is the time to check that you understand and discuss any possible side effects you may get from the medication prescribed to you.

10. Raise small concerns early

You are within your rights to see a different GP if you are not convinced by what you have been told.  You can change your GP or surgery at any time if you are not happy.

If you have a complaint - tell it to your GP or the Practice Manager before escalating it to the Clinical Commissioning Group.  A Practice Manager said that she would much rather drop everything and deal with an unhappy patient than deal with a formal complaint from the CCG.

Finally the GPs interviewed mentioned that if they have to examine a patient, it is much easier if the patient wears loose clothing eg. loose trousers to show the GP your knee.

Hope this has helped you get a better outcome from your GP discussions

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