A Lesson in the Importance of Finding the Right GP for You

Nicole Singh

This feature is dedicated to our #NoChangeNoFuture initiative. From the Women’s March, to Australia voting yes to same sex marriage, and the #MeToo movement, 2017 taught us to look beyond ourselves and come together as a collective of powerful women who are writing our own history. Join us as we cancel setting one-dimensional personal resolutions this January and commit to being the change we want to see. Because without change, there is no future.

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Finding the right GP may seem like a boring topic. But often, it’s just another area where many women can feel unheard or misunderstood. A few weeks ago, after a member in our secret FB group asked about finding a GP “who listens and is never dismissive,” I was reminded of my own experience a few months back with finding the right doctor, and why I believe that women finding a quality GP is also an imperative element of female empowerment. After all, a healthy and happy inside, makes it easier for us to influence our arenas of choice.

Early last year, I was misdiagnosed twice. It’s worth noting my symptoms were a little vague, and (maybe due to societal conditioning), I played down the extreme pain I had been feeling for months as “menstrual cramps.” But every time I walked out of the doctor’s office, something just didn’t feel right. And so, when I booked in for a third opinion, that pain was then labelled as an aggressive form of appendicitis, and I was then rushed to hospital. To cut a very long story short, what was the most impressive element of that consult was that I went in with a clear list of concerns and every single one of them was listened to, investigated and treated. If there was no answer, we kept looking together. And this lead to many potentially serious conditions being tackled early on. Once I found this unicorn of a GP, I have never let go. In fact, we have an important relationship. She’s my medical S.O. I get texts when I need to come in for blood tests, immunisation reminders, fertility advice, and she knows my family's medical history. We’ve also formed a strong line of communication about my long and short-term health goals. Like I said, she’s impressive.

After so many conversations with women around me, female health has fast become a topic that I am extremely passionate about. And whether we want to admit it or not, finding quality medical help that will see us through important life stages starts with a good GP. So, to help you find one that you feel comfortable sharing even your smallest concerns with, I spoke with a Royal Australian College of General Practioners spokesperson, Dr. Vicki Kotsirilos about her advice for making sure you are in a healthy relationship with your GP, what to do if you’re not currently happy with yours, and the changing role of GPs in today’s society.

If someone has a bad experience with a GP, what are some ways they can find one who works for them or specialises in the specific area they need more help with?

GPs care for your well-being and it is best, if possible, to discuss your concerns first with your GP to see if the problem(s) can be resolved. Like any human, GPs can have bad days, experience personal problems and stress and may not be aware of the bad experience [they're providing patients with]. If that fails, you may want to see another GP in the same practice. The advantage of this is that your medical file stays within the same practice. Speak to your new GP who may speak with the GP you had difficulties with. If you feel comfortable speaking with the receptionist or practice manager this may also help to resolve your problem. All practices have a complaints process in place with the aim to help patients who have bad experiences. Speak to the receptionist or practice manager about this. If all the above does not help solve the bad experience, you can try a different GP at a new location and request for your file to be transferred to the new practice.

If a patient feels like they may have been misdiagnosed, or the issue doesn’t go away, at what point should they keep pushing for an answer, or get another opinion? 

Patients today are much better informed and are keen to seek a second opinion when they are not satisfied or finding solutions to their health. Ask your GP for a referral to a specialist if you continue to feel concerned with your current treatment. To this day, I continue to learn from patients experiences. Learning never stops for GPs. Your GP does care about your well-being, so they too may want to know if you are not getting better or are misdiagnosed. So, I suggest going back to your GP and discuss your concerns.  

Has a GP’s role changed in the last decade would you say? Becoming more all-encompassing?

Yes, more GPs are recognising the role of stress and mental state in how it impacts on physical health. GPs are recognising the value of positive lifestyle changes such as a good diet, exercise, restoring sleep, and reducing stress as playing important roles in preventing and treating illnesses. More GPs are becoming aware of the importance of holistic health. As you develop a trusting relationship with your GP, they will get to know you better with time, and together you will be able to plan your health needs and what prevention strategies you as an individual require. This all depends on not only your lifestyle risk factors, but also your family history, if you drink too much alcohol, smoke, take drugs etc. Speak to your GP so they can determine your individual needs and risk factors, and what you can do to help yourself. GPs may also give you advice to reduce your stress to help your overall well-being and offer counselling if needed. Your GP does care about you, so if you feel a short routine visit is not long enough to discuss your health needs, ask the receptionist to book a longer consultation appointment to provide more time to address all your health needs and any concerns with your GP.

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