Our bodies tackle a lot throughout each day to keep us fit and healthy. Sometimes, however, our bodies can become out of sync and changes occur. Once we’ve detected a change, our GPs are usually our first point of contact for illnesses and injuries. But if we don’t know what the problem is ourselves, then how are we meant to talk to our doctors about it?
Your local GP is trained to handle any medical situation that is thrown at them. They would have partaken in a five year course, including a degree in medicine and two years training. GPs gain the relevant skills to help dissect the problem, including communicational skills such as the ability to inspire trust and confidence, and practical skills such as examining patients and performing clinical procedures. On average, a GP in England will have roughly 1700 patients according to Monitor report. Greater London, the South East, North West and London have a higher rating of around 2500. While lower ratings occur in the South West, the East of England and parts of Greater London and northern England, with so many patients per GP, the waiting times to see your doctor can be quite daunting. In 2015, the average waiting time for an appointment was ten days. However, the time increased to almost two weeks in 2016 according to a survey conducted with 831 patients. Many GPs have said they expect the time to increase with an ever-growing list and no new staff to cover the patient’s needs. Dr Janine O’Kane says she expects the waiting time to hit five weeks next year.
To make your appointment easier for both you and your doctor, you should be prepared to detail any changes to your body and lifestyle. You should also feel confident to ask any questions of your own to help you understand your health. Sheila Wells, a training expert says “People often don’t realise that staff are dealing with an awful lot at one time”. Therefore, it is important to head to your appointment with a clear understanding of the changes to your body. Sheila continues, “If you know what’s wrong, then patients can be matched up with a doctor suitable for their need.”
This is where a health diary may be helpful. It’ll help you understand and identify key changes in your health. Sometimes a change can be subtle but if you’re making regular notes it’ll be much easier to identify when something is out of whack. It is also a useful communication tool that you can use to illustrate your concerns and problems to your doctor. Though we would recommend pulling out and listing the key changes you’ve identified as this helps to keep the conversation focused on any issues and to make sure that you have covered everything. Even if you don’t have a health diary, a list of concerns and key questions will ensure you get the best of the limited time you have with your doctor.
When to see a doctor
- A cough that lasts more than three weeks or if you are coughing up greenish-yellow phlegm.
- Stools that are black or contain blood, or if you have had diarrhoea for two days.
- Chronic pain that lasts for three to six months.
- Headaches that occur three or more times a week or if they cause weakness, dizziness or numbness.
- If bloating becomes painful or is accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation or heartburn.
It’s also helpful to do your research before your appointment and be prepared to ask questions if you don’t understand anything. It is important for you to understand everything your doctor is telling you about your body. Doctors are human and tend to forget that not everyone understands certain medical jargon. Be confident to ask what they mean or even get them to write it down. Also make sure you understand why they are prescribing any medication or treatment, what it does and how long you need to be taking it for. This way, you’ll be able to take control of your health care by knowing what signs of improvement to look out for.
Some questions to ask:
- What do you recommend?
- Are there other ways to treat my condition?
- Are there any side effects or risks?
- How will I know if the treatment is working?
- Is there anything I should stop doing or avoid?
- Who do I contact if things get worse?
- What to do with any test results?
With a very strained and overwhelmed GP service it’s essential that we engage with our health care to ensure we get the best treatment possible. Taking these steps will enable you to take control of your health care, take comfort in the knowledge that you know what to expect from your treatment and medications to help you get better and ensure you get the most out of your appointment with your doctor without feeling you’re not getting any support.