health

'Women need longer consults': 4 things a GP wants to change about your doctor's appointment.

Ever been to a doctor's appointment and felt kind of... rushed to get through everything? Like you have a list of questions in your head, but you're on the clock and there's just not enough time to cover everything? You're not alone.

A recent survey by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) asked Australia’s GPs to vote on the biggest change needed in general practice to better serve Australian women.

According to the poll, 65 per cent of doctors said the number one most pressing change needed for women patients is to give them more time. 

Watch: Dr Melissa Kang said she too turned to magazines for answers. Post continues below.


Video via ABC News

It was also found that GPs want better access to sexual and reproductive health services (14 per cent), enhanced preventative health screening programs (12 per cent), and more female GPs (seven per cent).  

Listen: What is the “Uncool mental illness”? Mamamia Out Loud discusses. Post continues below. 

According to medical practitioner Dr Preeya Alexander, the push for longer consultations and changes within these healthcare services is not surprising.

Here, we take a deeper look into the four things a GP wants to change about your appointments.

Longer consultations for women.

"We absolutely need increased medicare rebates for longer consults in general practice - this will particularly help women," said Dr Preeya.

"In my own experience, female patients often require longer consults because the nature of the presenting complaint can require more time to sort out and often patients present with multiple complex issues that need to be dealt with in a consult."

Research shows that women have higher rates of some conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders than men. 

According to Dr Preeya, these kinds of complex cases can take longer to manage in a consult - but currently, GP visits are too short.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Women need easy access to long consults so that they can have a range of issues easily dealt with in a consult," said Dr Preeya.

"Issues that are specific to some women like contraceptive issues, preconception care, period pain, pain during intercourse and heavy period bleeding also take more time to manage in a consult."

"For patients experiencing mental health issues, family violence and sexual health issues, we often need more time with these patients because there are often a complex range of issues to deal with in."

In order to deliver quality care, Dr Preeya said doctors need more time to listen to a patient, assess their condition, and provide expert advice.

"We need time in consults to truly hear our patients and their entire story. We need time to examine them, if it is required, and explain complex information so that the patient can be empowered and make an informed decision about their health."

"Time is critical and a rise in the rebates for long consults will enable more GPs to spend the time with patients that patients so desperately require (particularly right now)."

With more time on their side, she said doctors will be better able to help inform the patient, and provide options for management and help them make an informed health decision. "It takes time to empower patients with knowledge."

ADVERTISEMENT

"As a GP I know that it can take time to nut out PMS symptoms from a mood disorder like anxiety. It takes me time as a GP to assess whether a patient's irregular periods are potentially due to underlying undiagnosed polycystic ovarian syndrome or something else." 

Dr Preeya said currently it is often financially better for a GP and the clinic to see four short consults than two long ones. 

"The change is desperately required to allow patients more time with their GPs, and GPs and clinics to be acknowledged for the time spent with patients." 

Better access to sexual and reproductive services.

According to Dr Preeya, the pandemic had spotlighted a lot of underlying issues that were already within the Australian healthcare system.

She said this is especially true when it comes to sexual and reproductive issues and mental health concerns - complex and sensitive issues doctors are increasingly seeing in their clinics. 

Sadly, there are currently many barriers when it comes to accessing these services, preventing patients from undergoing critical health screenings. 

"At the moment we are experiencing lots of issues accessing all sorts of services from mental health to sexual and reproductive services."

The result? Delayed diagnosis and worsening health conditions.

Education around what is normal and what is not.

Put up your hand if you thought it was normal to experience excruciating, stabbing, pass-out-worthy period pain? And you just kind of learned to get on with it and hope that it will get better? Because it must be the same for everyone, right? 

ADVERTISEMENT

"I think the community needs much more background knowledge generally on what is normal and what is not," said Dr Preeya.

"I see so many women who have been putting up with period pain, PMS symptoms or heavy periods and it is almost as if many of us are conditioned to just accept these things." 

Take endometriosis, for example. The symptoms associated with this condition can often have a severe impact on someone's quality of life, affecting not only their physical and mental health, but their relationships, too.

It's something that's shared by hundreds and thousands of women. One in in nine Australian women will be diagnosed with endometriosis by the time they hit their 40s. Yet, for something so common, it's a condition that often goes ignored or misdiagnosed for years.

"I think we need much more education in our schools of what is normal (what happens during a period, what symptoms might occur, what you can do about them) and what is not," said Dr Preeya.

"We need to empower girls and women with knowledge so that they can then seek help early if it is required."

More female GPs in rural areas.

Dr Preeya said Australia's rural doctor shortage is another important issue that needs to be addressed - something that is more likely to disadvantage women in these areas. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"A survey from the RACGP revealed that female GPs commonly deal with women's health issues (47 per cent for female GPs, compared to four per cent for male GPs)."

"Women in rural and remote communities often lack access to a female GP - and we need to be doing more to address this," said Dr Preeya.

Lower rates of female doctors in rural areas is something that makes it increasingly difficult for women to see a female doctor or medical specialist. 

Meaning? A lot of women will not access healthcare for ongoing issues and chronic conditions.

"I personally think recruiting young people from remote communities (including Aboriginal communities) to see if they might be interested in a career like medicine early so that these people can then eventually take knowledge and skills back and empower their community is the way to go."

"Telehealth has improved some access to services for women in rural and remote communities, however a face-to-face consult is still critical for some issues."

What do you think of the push for longer consultations for women? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Instagram/@drpreeya

Want to have your voice heard? Plus have the chance to win $100? Take our survey now.