These days, it seems to be a relief just to get an appointment with your GP or hospital. It is therefore important to make the best use of that time, for both parties. The importance of preparation can never be understated and I would like to thank my great friend Dr Simon Hodes for sharing the following advice with us!
Meaningful communication differentiates us from all other species on Earth. Certainly there are many advanced forms of communication in the animal kingdom, but we humans certainly have the most advanced speech, conversation and storytelling abilities.
It is commonly accepted that 80-90% of medical diagnoses are made from the ‘history’ (discussions) alone. So it is so important that meetings between patients and health care professionals (HCPs) are effective. Of course patients might require further tests to determine a rarer diagnosis, and very often need blood tests and other investigations to confirm a suspected diagnosis – or rule out serious concerns. But given that 80-90% of conditions are made through the ‘consultation’ ( your meeting with your HCP ), it is really important that we all make best use of these precious interactions. This is a 2 way process.
Patients need to recognise ‘red flag’ symptoms, and come and tell us about them as soon as possible. If you find a new lump, unexplained blood in your poo or wee or spit, an unusual changing skin lesion or you have unexplained weight loss PLEASE SEE YOUR GP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Early diagnosis is linked to better outcomes.
Here are a few suggestions to get the most out of a visit, phone call or video call with your HCP:
- If you think it is urgent – say so, and try to get an urgent appointment. Insist if necessary
- You may be able to resolve your query via a web form. This is often the simplest way and saves a phone call. These web forms are called “eConsultations” and can be found on many GP web sites. They are normally replied to within 2 working days (so would not be suitable for anything urgent). Most GPs can now easily receive and store photos securely. So it might be worth taking one or two photos in advance and offer to send them if needed. This is really useful for rashes, skin lesions, and eye infections for example. Your GP will explain how to send photos securely
- You may be offered a phone or video appointment – this is simply to ensure that you are assessed in the quickest and safest way possible. If a face to face appointment is needed it should be arranged afterwards
- If you want to see a specific HCP, or prefer a male or female GP, or if you need an interpreter please ask reception. They will always try to help you find the right HCP in your practice to help for your problem. Often you might be better to see a nurse, paramedic, pharmacist etc depending on the issue. Your GP Practice might direct your enquiry to another member of the team for efficiency
- If you want to bring somebody with you to an appointment, it is your right to do so. You should be offered a chaperone for any intimate examination, and if not offered, you should ask for one at any time if you feel it is necessary
- If you have more than one issue, it is probably better to make that clear at the outset of any meeting. This gives your HCP a chance to pace themselves and also for both of you to agree what to prioritise. They might not be able to deal with everything in one go, and might need to book another time to deal with other issues. You could ask for a ‘double appointment’ in advance if you have multiple issues that you wish to discuss
- If your story is complicated, it might be helpful to write down some timelines and symptoms. If this becomes more than a simple document, you could send a copy to your GP Practice (by email or post or by hand via reception) in advance of your appointment, and ask for this to be read before you arrive. From personal experience this is very helpful, and we would usually keep a copy of these letters on your medical files for future reference. It allows us to prepare, think and research and can save everyone a lot of time
- If you need to be examined please wear appropriate clothing. For example if you have a sore knee wear loose trousers, or a sore shoulder just a T shirt or vest top under your coat. If you’re feeling kind please wash the appropriate area (a GP once told me he went to examine a patient’s foot, and when he asked to compare the other side – the patient declined and said they had only washed the affected foot in advance….)
- If you do not understand anything – please ask. We are here to help
I hope the above ideas help you to make efficient use of time with your appointments. As a final note, if you receive a letter, or view your medical notes and notice any errors please write back with suggested corrections as soon as possible. We are meant to be here to help. So if you are not happy for any reason, please raise your concerns directly with the health care professional directly or via the Practice Manager.
Simon is an NHS GP Partner, GP Trainer & Appraiser based in Bridgewater Surgeries, a large Group Practice in Watford, with a c30,000 practice list size. All views expressed are his own @DrSimonHodes
Many thanks for this advice Simon! I have felt a real change regarding appointments even before Covid. My feeling is that we need to become very active in our own treatment to ensure we don’t get lost in the system. Particularly if there are co-morbidities involved. As always it would be great to hear your views! How do you feel about the fast moving healthcare landscape. Is it better or worse than before. Feel free to leave your comments below.