When you go to your GP about a health problem, you may be feeling anxious or vulnerable, and with the clock ticking it’s easy to feel rushed too. Dr Graham Easton, GP and author of The Appointment, explains how he prepares for a consultation with his own doctor in order to make the most of his precious ten minutes.
Like many people, I sit in the waiting room planning what I want to say when I’m finally called through. If it’s a personal or potentially embarrassing problem, sometimes my feelings overwhelm the rational thinking part of my brain. But I know that both thoughts and feelings are really important for the doctor to know about, so I try to pay attention to both. Once I understand how I’m really feeling and what I’m really thinking, there’s a better chance of making sure my doctor and I are on the same wavelength. And I know that this medical professional I’m about to see has seen it all before – I really don’t need to feel embarrassed about any intimate examinations that might be needed, or ashamed of being worried or anxious – that’s natural.
I try to get quickly to the point and explain clearly what the main problem is. Even though I’m a doctor, I try to use my own words and avoid technical medical jargon. I work out roughly how long it’s been going on. That doesn’t need to be accurate to the nearest minute, but equally “Oh, it’s been a problem for quite a while now” isn’t terribly helpful either.
People often bring lists of problems with them. That can be helpful, particularly a list of symptoms; the doctor can then quickly scan through it looking for patterns or connections. But if I have a few different medical tasks I’d like him to help me with, I make an effort to prioritise them so that if we only have time for one or two, I can suggest which ones I’d rather we focused on today. If I’m seeing a new doctor about an ongoing problem, I might make a few bullet points as a quick summary of what’s already happened. I know they have their own notes on the computer, but often a quick recap from the patient is the most effective way to get up to speed.
I know that all GPs in the UK are trained to explore the patient’s ‘ideas, concerns and expectations’: what they think might be going on, if they have any particular worries about what it might be, and what, if anything, they were expecting to happen today. I know it’s often helpful when patients let me know these things – so I work out what mine are and prepare to get them on the table early in the consultation. I genuinely want to hear his expert opinion though, so I’m careful to couch my ideas as suggestions to be discussed.
Finally, if I’m taking medication, or coming with a relative who’s on lots of pills, I make sure I have an up to date list of what they’re actually taking. Failing that, I’d bring the actual packets with me. And if there’s a chance of a physical examination, I try to dress myself or my relative accordingly – for easy access where needed.
Many doctors and patients would love to have more time for consultations, and things are slowly moving in that direction. Meanwhile, doctors and patients have to make the best of the precious few minutes we have together.