If you're worried about your GP’s diagnosis or treatment, here’s how to leave the surgery feeling confident not confused, says Nicola Down
With the average GP consultation lasting just seven minutes, it’s no wonder that a study has found that two-thirds of us feel rushed.
If you leave your surgery with more questions than answers or, worse still, have a niggling feeling your diagnosis or treatment isn’t on the right track, what should you do?
Crucially, you mustn’t be afraid to speak up if you’re unsure of anything. Expressing concerns can take courage but leads to discussion, more understanding and reassurance.
Here’s how to voice your concerns if something doesn’t seem right, plus the tricks for getting the most from even the shortest appointment.
Tackle concerns head on
Fear your digestive discomfort might be a symptom of ovarian cancer, as that’s what a relative had? Then say so! If you don’t feel your worries are being addressed, keep repeating your questions.
Likewise, if you’re unsure whether your doctor has fully understood your concerns, ask him or her to repeat them back to you. That way, you can be confident you’re both on the same page.
Get second opinions at your surgery
Although you don’t have a legal right to a second opinion, you can ask for one. GPs are usually more than happy for you to see one of the other doctors in your practice. GP Dr Juliet McGrattan says, ‘I’ve heard patients say they are worried they’ll cause offence, but in reality GPs welcome the opinion of colleagues, particularly if your case is a tricky one.’
But if you don’t want to tell your GP you’re making an appointment with another doctor, you needn’t. According to Citizens Advice, you have the right to see another GP in your practice without giving a reason.
Ask about ‘Expert GPs’
It’s always worth asking your receptionist or GP if there are any doctors in your practice who have a particular interest in your health concern. This can potentially open up a wider range of treatment options.
Depending on what your problem is, there may be a GP in your practice or local area who has a special knowledge. They might be ideal for a second opinion if you or your GP has any uncertainties about the best way to manage your problem. You can also often find information about GP specialities on their practice websites.
Seek specialist help
Not seeing any improvement in a troublesome condition, despite several appointments with your GP? If it’s relevant, your doctor may suggest a specialist. To discover whether one might be helpful, ask your GP, ‘Are there any tests or treatments that only a specialist can do?’
Although you don’t have a legal right to be referred to a specialist, your GP does have clinical guidelines to follow and if they’re not appropriate for you, they should explain why.
Consider changing practice
Finding your doctor’s care unhelpful because you have trouble getting appointments or because you’re forever seeing different doctors or locums? Then you might want to consider switching surgeries. You can get a list of practices accepting new patients from your Primary Care Trust. Find listings at nhs.uk or healthwatch.co.uk
If you’ve been diagnosed with a longer-term condition, and you just want to find out more yourself, ask your doctor to recommend support groups or organisations that can help.
Alternatively, ask your GP if they have any literature or leaflets you can take away. Doctors often have fact sheets on a variety of problems, which you can read in detail afterwards, and which can be a great help. Or they can advise where you can go to for more information, such as charities and support groups.
- Tackle concerns head on
- Seek out specialist help
- Consider changing practice
- Get second opinions at your surgery
- Request homework
- Ask about ‘expert GPs’
Still not happy?
If you’re unhappy with your GP or GP’s surgery, you can complain to them directly, or to the NHS in your region.
Your local Healthwatch can signpost you to organisations that can help. Call them on 0300 068 3000 or visit healthwatch.co.uk
Get the most from your next appointment
Back troubling you but also want to discuss your blood pressure medication? If you have numerous issues to discuss, don’t book one appointment, but a double or even a triple one. This will give you more time to talk through each individual problem so you don’t feel rushed.
* Write it down
If you struggle to explain yourself, grab a pen! If you feel too embarrassed to read out your notes, simply give them to your doctor to read. You also might want to consider taking a helpful friend or family member for moral support.
* Be crystal clear
Explain what your symptoms and concerns are. And be honest. If you haven’t been taking your medication, say so – and explain why. If your GP doesn’t have the full picture, they can’t give you the best diagnosis and treatment.
* Know what’s next
At the end of your appointment, ensure you understand the
next step. For instance, if your GP is referring you for tests, ask what they’re looking for. And before you leave your doctor’s office, repeat your understanding of what’s been discussed so there’s no misunderstanding.
Why GPs sometimes have to say NO
Woman’s Weekly doctor Melanie Wynne-Jones says: ‘Doctors simply can’t say ‘yes’ to everything. They have a duty to treat you safely, and according to best practice – for example, your personal medical conditions and medicines may rule out your preferred treatment.
* They must also redirect you if they don’t have the necessary expertise or resources – eg, dental problems and hospital-funded services, such as monitoring complex treatments.
* Also, many practices are inadequately funded and can’t offer longer appointments or extra services such as heart tracings (ECGs) themselves.
* Local or national policies may prevent GPs prescribing expensive drugs, arranging restricted treatments or referring you to hospital unless you fit specified test or treatment ‘pathways’.
* But if they can’t help, your GP should explain why and advise you about alternatives, or who to contact if you wish to complain or appeal.’
Doctor wrong? The 5 questions you should always ask
Every health concern is different, but this checklist could help at your next appointment.
1 What do you think the problem is – and is there anything else it could be?
2 Do I need tests and what will they tell me?
3 What treatment do I need and what does it do? Also, how long do I need it for and what do I need to know about it?
4 What should I do if I feel worse?
5What’s the next step after this appointment?
Don’t forget pharmacists
If it’s your medication that’s causing the problems, remember that pharmacists can be a big help. Not only are they highly qualified in medication but many pharmacies, such as Boots, offer free medicine check-ups to help you better manage your condition(s).