How to get the most from you GP visits

Image via Flickr

Want to leave your GP appointments feeling like your doctor actually listened to you? There are ways to make that happen.

1. Find your right fit…

First things first: are you happy with your current GP? Do you feel like she understands you? And does she give you good advice? If not, you may need to look for a new doctor.

The best way to find a good GP is to ask around; ask your friends and family who they see and why. Once you’ve found someone you feel comfortable with, switch doctors.

While doing so usually involves a bit of paperwork (along the lines of needing to give your old GP clinic permission to send your medical records to your new clinic), it’s worth it if you feel like you’re in better hands.

2. Be honest

Once you’ve found a GP you’re comfortable with (and that may be your current GP), it’s really important to be honest about your health. And when I say honest, I mean try to include all the relevant details about your concerns.

While it may be embarrassing to talk about certain things, the truth is your GP needs to know these details so she can come up with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

Unless your GP thinks you may be at risk of harming either yourself or someone else (in which case she will need to tell the authorities), what you say to your GP stays just between the two of you. It’s extremely important to disclose things like drug use. Your GP isn’t going to report you, and this sort of information is medically important.

You also need to be up front about things like your sexual history, your alcohol use, and whether or not you smoke. Even if you’re embarrassed, lying about it isn’t going to help.

If you’re really struggling to discuss personal stuff, try to remind yourself that your GP is not there to judge or embarrass you. Also, while you may find it hard to talk about things like a new vaginal discharge, remember your GP hears this kind of thing all the time.

3. Get your doctor to speak in a way you understand

As doctors we’re taught all types of medical words for diseases and treatments and bugs and just about everything. When we talk to other doctors we speak that language because it’s easier for us to understand each other. But when we speak to patients we’re taught to speak using language you guys get. However, sometimes we forget this and throw in an odd doctor-speak word here or there.


Instead of nodding along to our foreign words, feel free to interrupt us and say, ‘Sorry, can you explain that again?’ or, ‘What does that mean?’

We won’t think worse of you for asking. In fact we’ll think you’re paying attention, on the ball, and really invested in understanding what’s going on.

And if the way we’re explaining something is going way over your head, or you want us to slow down or explain it differently, tell us. After all it’s no good if we understand what we’re saying but you have no clue what we’re on about.

Oh, and if all your doctor seems to talk is medical mumbo-jumbo, ask her to print out some information for you to take home so you can learn more about your condition later (and maybe think about rebooking to see a new GP next time…).

4. Tell us if you don’t like our medical advice

Again, it all comes down to being honest. So if you don’t like our medical advice, tell us. For instance, if you’re against taking antibiotics and have zero intention of actually using them, don’t just accept the script knowing that the only place it’s going is the bin. Instead, tell us how you feel about our advice and what treatment you would prefer.

Though your doctor may not agree with your thoughts, at least the two of you can then discuss your options and work out a plan together.

5. Clarify what you need to do next

My final tip is this: never leave your doctor’s appointment without knowing what happens next. If your doctor doesn’t make it clear, just ask. It can be as simple as, “So, do I need to come back, or will you call me with those results?” And if your GP says she’s going to call you, find out if she’s only going to do that if your results are abnormal, or whether she’ll call you regardless.

Also, if you think you might forget all the things you’re meant to do after your appointment ask your GP to write them down. After all, the more info you leave with, the better.

What advice you would give your GP about how to be a better doctor?