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6 Ways to Make the Most of a General Practitioner Appointment

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Given the limited time you get in a general practitioner appointment (whittled down to 10 minutes in the UK), it can be difficult getting in everything you want to say if you have to cover a lot of ground, or have to fight your corner just to be heard and taken seriously. Added to that, some doctors can be pretty pushy, wrapping up the appointment as soon as they think you’re finished (when you’re only just getting started!) and trying in no uncertain terms to get you out the door.

So, how do you make the most of an appointment? Here’s my advice.

1. Make the 10 minutes count. Stick to the point, avoid waffling or umming and aahing. Think about what you need to say and how you want to say it before you go so you feel more prepared and build up your confidence beforehand.

2. Prepare your evidence. If there’s anything that may help show the problem, if indeed there is anything to see, then bring it along. For instance, a photo of your skin condition when it’s flared up or a photo of your belly when it’s distended and “at its worst.” It’s not uncommon to get to the GP after waiting for your appointment for that problem you want to discuss to suddenly not seem so obvious!

If it’s completely “invisible,” then…

3. Anticipate what’s next. In some cases, you can guess at what the GP might suggest. For instance, if you’re going about digestive issues or exhaustion, keep a record for a week or more of key points (how you’re feeling, what you’ve eaten, symptoms, etc.). Symptoms checklists and diaries are a good way of evidencing the issues and how they vary over time, so if you’ve already done this, you may save yourself a repeat visit. If you think a blood test may be needed, clear your schedule for after your appointment in case you are able to take the request form to your local hospital for the test the same day.

4. What do you want?  Think about what it is you’re asking for. Do you want a physical exam, a sick note, a certain kind of blood test or scan? Is there something you think that may help you, a medication you’d want to try, a referral you think you need? Sometimes GPs can benefit from suggestions and an idea of what you’re after. The worse than can do is say no (and justify the answer), but having an idea of what you think you need can save a lot of wasted time.

5. Get familiar with your meds. Make sure you know what you’re taking and the dose. If they ask about what you’re on, it’ll save a bit of time if you can tell them rather than them having to scroll through your records and identify the medication by color and size descriptions you give them.

6. Consider some back-up. If you’ve been brushed off repeatedly, it starts becoming very disheartening going back time and time again to get similar results. It may be worth considering taking a print-out from a reputable online source and/or a symptoms checklist if there’s something in particular you want to discuss and have them take seriously; just bear in mind how you come across (i.e. it may be better to emphasize how you are curious and concerned and think it’s worth looking at, rather than stating it’s something you have and giving the GP more reason to dismiss you as a Google diagnosis hypochondriac). Another option may be to ask a partner, parent or close friend to come along, someone who can respectfully stay in the background during the appointment looking fierce and stepping in if necessary to fight in your corner in a professional, diplomatic way.

The same tactics can apply for appointments with other specialists you may be seeing, not just your GP.

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Originally published: October 13, 2016
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