How to get the best from your GP consultation

Most GPs have 10-minute appointments these days - that's longer than it was a few years ago, but there's much more to do! These days, your doctor may get prompts on their computer to check your medications, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol, whether your memory needs checking - all before you've even started on what you're actually there for!

Most GPs have 10-minute appointments these days - that's longer than it was a few years ago, but there's much more to do! These days, your doctor may get prompts on their computer to check your medications, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol, whether your memory needs checking - all before you've even started on what you're actually there for! In some respects this is good - there can be dangerous consequences if, say, you don't get your blood checked regularly while you're taking some medicines for high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis etc - but it certainly can feel like it's getting in the way of your discussion with the doctor.

So to make sure you get the best out of your consultation:

  • Dress appropriately if you might need to be examined. I've lost count of the number of patients wearing tights under trousers when they have a problem with their feet! It's highly likely your doctor will need to see the affected part
  • For any waterworks problems, always take a urine sample (they're bound to ask and you can never go when you need to)
  • Keep a diary of your symptoms/periods etc so you doctor knows how long they've been going on or what's different for you
  • If you think a tablet is causing your symptoms, make a note of when the symptoms started and when you started your tablets. Most side effects happen in the first few months or days after taking a medicine. However, in a few cases, side effects can start after weeks or even months
  • Take one problem at a time. You may think you're helping your GP by saving up all your concerns. But your GP will be worried that with too many issues to tackle, there's a chance of not looking into each one thoroughly and possibly missing something.

It's good to talk

These days, there's a huge range of options apart from an appointment with the GP. If you're not sure if your symptoms warrant a visit, try ringing the practice to ask about a call back from your doctor. Most practices have a dedicated call-back system. While it helps GPs by reducing demand on the system and waiting times, it could help you by saving you a visit.

Prescription problems?

Pharmacists are so much more than just pill-dispensers. They can answer queries about your medications, including side effects and possible drug interactions. They can check you're using your inhaler properly or advise on the best time to take your tablets. And they can also help with a wide range of minor ailments, from coughs and colds, through hay fever and dry skin to constipation and tummy bugs. They'll advise you if you need to see the doctor, and you don't need an appointment!

A second opinion?

If you're unhappy with your treatment, you don't have an automatic right to a second opinion, but you have a right to ask for one. You can certainly see another doctor at your own general practice. But try asking your doctor why they don't think referring you on is necessary - they'll be happy to explain their reasoning and it may put your mind at ease.

I've read in the newspaper…

You may think that magazine article or news piece on the internet tells you exactly what you need, but your doctor has years of clinical experience. Going in with the sole aim of getting what you want is unlikely to make for a productive consultation. Don't believe everything you read in the magazines or on websites (except this one, of course!) - some 'miracle cures' are only suitable for a few people and some are unscrupulous scams. Instead, explain your concerns and ask your doctor for their opinion

When you shouldn't wait

There are lots of conditions that doctors see as 'red flags' - at first sight, they could be serious. In most cases, your doctor will be able to reassure you that there's nothing to worry about, or offer effective treatment. If in doubt, it's best to check with your GP (on the phone is often fine) or your pharmacist. But some examples of 'better safe than sorry' include:

  • Bleeding. Whether it's bleeding in your urine or from your bottom, bleeding between periods or after the menopause or coughing up or vomiting blood, get it checked. Minor nosebleeds are the exception, but see your GP if they're severe or keep happening or you're on blood-thinning medicine like warfarin
  • Chest pain - most people know that severe crushing chest pain with shortness of breath or dizziness is a medical emergency. But other types of chest pain should be checked too, just in case
  • Any weakness on one side or problems speaking could be a stroke - always seek help immediately!
  • Almost everyone gets headaches sometimes. See your GP if you get a headache that's different from usual; you have very severe headache that comes on in minutes; you have neck stiffness or don't like the light; or it's worse when you lie down
  • You have a painful (not sore) red eye, especially if vision is affected.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.