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Getting the best from your GP.

View profile for Kim Daniells
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Our work in the field of medical law has shown us that one of the biggest threats to successful and effective medical care is poor communication, by the patient or their GP, especially at an initial consultation.

Many people who need to see a GP, or nurse, can feel overwhelmed by the prospect of the encounter - understanding the significance of the visit and the need to explain clearly what is wrong, but aware that they perhaps have just a few minutes to do so. Perhaps it is not surprising that patients who are also anxious about discussing intimate details, or nervous about being examined, often leave a surgery feeling frustrated that their concerns have not been heard or understood.

The reality is that mixed messages from patients can cause confusion, and risk setting the GP off on the wrong track, perhaps delaying effective treatment so it is worth taking time to prepare for your consultation.

Getting an initial GP or consultant, appointment, either in person, or remotely by video call, is the first step to acknowledging a medical problem and learning more about the treatment options that may help resolve it. There are steps that patients can take to ensure that both they, and the GP can make as much progress during the consultation as possible.

1. Write it down first.

If a patient has a number of symptoms which are troubling, or believes may be difficult to explain their concerns to the GP, it may be best, if time allows, for them to write their concerns down so they do not miss anything through anxiety or fears about taking up too much of a busy doctor’s time.

A helpful note may save the GP time ... it may flag up symptoms that are connected and suggest a possible diagnosis, or at least highlight tests that may be necessary. If the GP can read the note it may free up time for an examination, or help them identify additional important information to obtain.

If the list of concerns is lengthy or complex then the GP may suggest booking further appointments to address some of the issues so that your care can be planned accordingly.

2. If you are tempted to research your symptoms online...

It is a natural impulse to use online resources to check out new or troubling symptoms...but the results of the research can be very misleading and often unnecessarily alarming. If you do want to look online before you see a GP:-

a. Choose your source carefully. Use a bona fide medical website – such as the NHS – and avoid chat rooms and social media sites. Although many contributors may be well-intentioned, they may offer false reassurance or cause unnecessary alarm. There are many helpful social media groups who can offer effective support and advice after a diagnosis but they cannot replace clinical expertise in identifying the problem.

b. Tell your GP about the results of your research.

If you tell the GP about the results of your research it will help them to understand your concerns. The GP may be able to take into account the information you have obtained and use this to help direct further tests or investigations. Providing the GP with the website address you used as a source may save the GP some time in their own research. In many cases a GP will be able to offer reassurance and peace of mind.

3. Be honest about the time your consultation will take.

If you have a number of different issues to discuss, then the GP is unlikely to be able to deal with them in one short appointment. Consider speaking to a receptionist about booking a double appointment. This may allow the GP to give you the time you need to explain your concerns.

4. Think about whether you need to be seen face-to-face.

If you think your symptoms will require a physical examination then you are likely to need a face-to-face appointment at some stage but many issues can be addressed effectively by telephone or video consultations. If you can offer preliminary brief information to a receptionist about your situation, they will be able to plan appointments so that you can receive the advice and treatment you need.

GPs, as the primary source of medical support in the UK, also have a pivotal role as the gateway to specialist investigation and treatment. Helping them to do their job effectively ensures that valuable NHS resources can be allocated properly...and that you get the support, care and treatment you need.