How to get the most from your GP

How to get the most from your GP

When seeing a GP lasts only 5mins and seeing a herbalist lasts an hour or two it can be hard to see any value in seeing a gp but when I was running a practice I would frequently send patients back to their gp! I found even if my patients had gone to their gp they would leave feeling like they'd just spoken to a brick wall. But I think if you come with a game plan you can always get the most out of your appointments. 

First thing to do is to always come with an open mind. Your NHS gp isn't somewhere you go to demand specific treatments that you've deemed appropriate for yourself. If you want to do that I'm afraid, you probably will have to go private. It is your doctors professional responsibility to only give you treatments they deem safe and appropriate. Sadly, there is an extra layer of decision making GPs have to navigate within the NHS though, and that is politics.  

Depending where you are in the world, the budget your doctor has, the sponsorships they are receiving, you may find the options you're given differ greatly from practice to practice. My understanding is that this is because each clinic is given a budget and the individual practice is able to decide how they spend that. Drug companies offer monetary rewards or discounts for using specific brands or reaching particular targets too (you can read more about that in Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre), that can mean some drugs are given preference over another. So while it's good for you to know what you want when you go you have to understand that ultimately it may be impossible to get it on the NHS.  

What to say in your precious 5 minutes. 

When I went to the doctor growing up I felt like I HAD to take whatever they prescribed. I took "doctors orders" quite literally. I didn't realise I had an option. I didn't feel there was any time for my questions so I would take drugs without really knowing what I was taking or how it works. It took me a long time and a lot of confidence to learn how to say thanks but no thanks. It also took me years to learn what questions I needed to ask to feel that when I do take drugs, it's my choice, not an order from the doctor.

I may not be that interested in taking the drugs a doctor has to offer but I do like to go for their diagnostic skills. Diagnosis is the most important part on the journey to healing. You can waste a lot of time (and money) trying to treat something that turns out to be something else.

When you visit your doctor they will create a list in their mind called a differential diagnosis. Essentially it's a few options of what may be the cause. Because time is limited they will generally tell you the problem is probably the most common on that list. To which they'll offer you a medicine to try and alleviate symptoms and if it works they know their diagnosis was probably correct. This is the fastest way for them to (hopefully) make an improvement. But if their diagnosis is wrong or you don't get on with the medicine you will probably find yourself back there next week.

This can end up being an incredibly slow way to make a precise diagnosis which a herbalist could make following an in depth initial consultation, thereby giving them more chance of an accurate diagnosis from the start.

  1. Don't come in announcing a diagnosis you've made yourself, especially one made using Google. 
  2. Open with the facts, what are you experiencing, when did it start, what makes it better, what makes it worse, does anything else accompany it?  
  3. See what they think before giving your impressions and judgements
  4. Make a plan going forwards
  5. Ask if there are side effects to the treatments offered and what to do if you experience them
  6. Ask how long treatment will last and what happens afterwards 
  7. Ask how it works so that you fully understand how it's going to be altering your body

If you're not interested in taking the medicine offered you then you should ask what tests they could run to get more information before deciding on a diagnosis. Once you feel assured they've got a final diagnosis then you can seek out a treatment which suits your personal tastes.

I hope you find this article helpful for your next trip to the doctors. Always remember, they want to help you, and if you don't get that feeling just request to see another person in the future! You have the right to health care that suits you and your needs.