Have you ever walked out of an appointment with your GP and wondered what you paid all that money for? Have you ever felt like they didn’t really listen, palmed you off, even scoffed at your symptoms?
Getting good medical help is so important, not just to make it a more pleasant experience for you, but to ensure that you are getting the right preventative checks, early intervention and an informed, thorough management of illnesses.
What I have covered below is by no means an exhaustive list and I am sure there are plenty of people who know a lot more about it than me, but here is what I have learnt so far in my life (and medical) journeys:
I’ve said before that there are doctors and then there are doctors. Due to knowledge base, preference and/or personality, every doctor is different and not all of them can give you the help you need…
The Right Doctor
I remember the first time I met my current GP.
My husband had bundled me into the doctors office. I was in tears. I was distraught. I had been trying to be strong for so long, bottling things up inside, that I had become a tight wire of anxiety and I was about to snap (or maybe I already had).
My GP took the time to really listen to me and go over all the aspects of my situation and all the ways I could seek help. He set up a management plan and he referred me to the people who would make that management plan happen. He took extra time to make sure everything was in place for me before he let me leave his office.
He rang me to make sure I was OK in the following days and he booked me for another appointment two weeks after the first.
Unfortunately, it takes a very special doctor to handle the above situation in the right way. I say “unfortunately” only by virtue of it being so rare. Unfortunately, low level negligence is normal, but it is not right.
Scott has been my GP for about 7 yrs now. I had a few before him but he is the right mix of dedication, genuine care for patients, holistic overview and ongoing learning that I need from my GP. If you, like me, are a (let’s be honest) high maintenance patient, it is doubly important that you too have a doctor who is open minded, continually learning from the current medical literature, genuinely cares about their patients and is willing to go the extra distance, every time.
Everybody needs something different. Some of my previous GPs were nice people, fine doctors, but just not the right fit for me. You need to find the right fit for you and to not be afraid to keep looking if the fit isn’t right. Your health is far too important to put it in the hands of someone who perhaps doesn’t care for you in the way that you need, or even someone who doesn’t have the same outlook as you. GP-patient relationships are intimate, sensitive things and good communication and trust is so important.
A good doctor is a consistent doctor. The worst thing you can do is just see anyone who’s available (unless you can’t help it, which happens). You need (using that word very purposefully) a doctor who knows you, your medical background, your family and personal situation. All these factor are incredibly important when making decisions about the medical management of a patient. And with that knowledge base, trust grows. You learn to trust your doctor and put faith in their decisions and they learn to trust you and do things for you that they wouldn’t necessarily do for a stranger walking in their door (like not charge you because they know you came in last week with the same complaint, charge the whole family as one person or order additional tests a new doctor wouldn’t consider because they don’t know the whole picture). Building that relationship over time with a good GP is important and beneficial in so many ways.
A good doctor should…
- in all dealings with you, show you respect as a fellow human being – you may not have their degrees, but that does not make you lesser.
- not be rude, or even impersonal.
- not talk at you, but with you.
- make you feel at ease.
- listen to you and express empathy.
- not hurry you through the appointment because they’re running behind schedule (that’s their issue, not yours).
- not discount what you say out of hand but instead discuss all aspects of what you are experiencing, what their take on it is, and why.
- explain things thoroughly but clearly (after all, you probably don’t have a medical degree and, if you’re anything like me, you may have barely passed science in high school, too).
- order appropriate follow up tests and investigations.
- contact you about important test results, even if by text and even if the results are clear. In this way, a good doctor acknowledges the stress and worry of waiting for test results and seeks to reassure their patients.
- ring you in the days after the appointment to check in if you have presented with mental health issues for the first time, or presented with borderline hospitalisation symptoms. A good doctor’s care of their patients goes beyond their door. A good doctor doesn’t just want your money; they have your back.
The best advice I could give you for finding long term high quality medical care is to create a social web of good information and good services. If you’re happy with one service provider, ask them to recommend others. If your doctor leaves the practice, ask the receptionist (who you’ve developed a really good relationship with, of course!) to recommend another. (Gently) grill everyone you meet, from social workers to pharmacists. Make the most of your existing relationships and contacts to make the next connection you need.
A lot of the time you have to be super assertive and ask the right questions, as I have learnt from dealing with medical professionals for my disabled child over the last 14 yrs, but there are definitely people out there who are more than worth their weight in gold when it comes to giving you help.
When it’s time to move on
Not happy with your doctor but not sure whether you should look for someone else?
I encourage people to take part in their diagnosis, listen to their inner compass when it tells them something doesn’t sound right and seek second, third (or even more) opinions when those doubts arise.
Discuss your situation with friends and family if you feel like you need a sounding board for your concerns. Maybe go online and chat with support groups (using your judgement to make certain they are informed and actually supportive) to get the ‘inside story’ and possibly even recommendations for other specialists (or at least how to access that information).
Making decisions: parenting exercises
Something that I’ve found that works for me when making tough decisions that you could try if you like the sound of it, is what I call a parenting exercise: I pretend that I (Lowen) am the parent of me (Lowen) – what would I tell myself? “Stop being silly”? (no, that would be that pesky, negative inner voice in your head, not your parenting self). You may find your parenting self might say, “Hmmm, maybe you should get a recommendation and go and see someone else for a second look,” or, “Try this medication for a few weeks and see if it helps, like the Specialist said it would”, or “I think you’re over thinking it, love,” or, “Maybe sleep on it and see if you still have reservations in the morning”. Our parenting selves tend to be more logical and also more loving than the rest of the jumble of thoughts in our head. It can be an effective way of stepping back and looking at the situation in a clearer light.
Being part of the process
These are all ways of making a measured decision about how you want to progress in managing your illness. And that bit I just highlighted is so important – we shouldn’t just be treated by a doctor – we should always be part of the decision-making process.
If you are coming away from your appointment feeling like you weren’t part of the process, it probably is time to move on.
You don’t have to put up with substandard services just because they are all that’s been offered to you.
Get a second opinion. Ask friends and trusted professionals for recommendations.
Keep looking until it feels right.
Best of luck, hope you hit gold with your doctor and they are caring and informative.
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P.S Did you know that you have legal rights regarding the medical help you recieve? Come this way for more information.