11 ways to get the most out of your GP consultation

My poor little blog has been rather neglected recently. I don’t think I’ve posted anything for about a month, which is a far cry from my twice a week enthusiastic start. But hey ho …. that’s life isn’t it! Sprog3 is now the ripe old age of 6 months, so its fair to say that my brain is now officially frazzled and the logistics of being a family of 5 is catching up with me. I am barely able to string two coherent sentences together, let alone write something intelligible about a pressing medical issue. So today I thought I’d write a post that I’ve been musing about for some time (and doesn’t require me read a single journal article either which is a total bonus!).

So…the average GP appointment lasts 10 minutes. 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes.

Lots of you may be aware of this fact but have you ever actually stopped to think how long that actually is. The answer is, not long. And don’t forget that the clock starts as soon as your name is called, so the 10 minute slot includes you walking into the doctors room, taking off your coat (more on that later), having your consultation, putting your coat back on, leaving and then the doctor writing up your notes and requesting various investigations etc. Clearly time is tight. In order that you get as much as possible out of this small time slot, there are a few things you can do to help things go as smoothly as possible.

Also its worth mentioning that in an average surgery of 20 patients – spending just 2 extra minutes with each person leaves you well over half an hour late by the time your last patient rolls in…..

1) Be on time

Yes, yes I know Doctors always run late. This is very true. But just in case they are running to time, don’t waste all-important waiting-room-128071-mminutes by being tardy.

Some doctors run a ‘first come, first served policy’ – so even if you are just a few minutes late, the next person may have sped past you and been seen first. You have been warned!

2) Don’t get too comfy!

Unless you need to show the GP a huge lesion on your arm, don’t start peeling of scarves, coats etc. and laboriously hanging them up. You are wasting valuable time that could be better spent discussing your problems.

Same applies to lovingly and achingly slowly stripping every layer off your beautiful baby. Please feel free to do it tenderly and whilst singing lullabies at home – but please not in my consultation room.

large toddler crying3) If possible leave the kids at home

I am definitely guilty of this one, but if at all possible try to off load the children during the consultation. Inevitably parents get distracted trying to keep little Jonny in order. Again this has a tendency to not only waste time but also stops you from being fully focused and engaged in the consultation.

I’ve lost track of the number of gynaecological examinations I’ve done with a baby, toddler (or probably worse) under 10 year old looking on; far from ideal.

(Needless to say if you do bring your child and bribe them with sweets and your ipad that is totally fine.)

4) Don’t bring a list

Its an oldie but a goodie. Please don’t come in brandishing a list of umpteen complaints that all need sorting today. It is utterly unrealistic to expect to deal with so many issues at one time. Pick the most pressing problem and try to work through that– rather than leaping between troubles and not addressing any of them properly.

Also it’s not fair on your fellow patients who will inevitably end up waiting longer.

Despite notices around our waiting room asking people not to bring multiple problems to a single appointment I reckon about 95% of our patients still do (that is an entirely guessed statistic but I suspect its not too far from the truth!)

Or book a double appointment.

5) Think about your ‘story’ and tell it chronologically

If possible try to tell your story from the beginning. E.g. ‘it all began 3 months ago when I first had a funny pain in my side….. etc. etc.’ You want to try and paint a picture for your GP of your symptoms and the story that goes with it.

6) When giving timings try to be accurate

When asked how long you’ve been unwell for its best to try and be as specific as possible. Saying ‘oooh a long time’,  ‘hummm it seems like forever’ or ‘not long at all’ are all really unhelpful as the meaning varies so much between patients. If possible try to talk about durations in terms of hours, days, months or years – broad bush time scales that everyone can understand.

Again – it just saves time if the story is as clear as possible from the outset

7) Don’t be embarrassed

Your doctor will not be shocked by anything you tell them…honestl

8) Know how consultations work

Generally speaking your consultation will follow this pattern;

            You tell your story

stethoscope-220620-m            The doctor asks you specific questions based on your story

            Your doctor will examine you (not always necessary I hasten to add)

            Your doctor will discuss what they think might be going on and suggest management options/plan etc

            You ask questions/discuss ‘the plan’

This is how we are taught to do things at medical school and for most GP’s it is just second nature. I only mention this as it is very important when it comes to point 9…

9) Get the important issues out first

If there is something you are really worried about e.g. a lump in your breast or crushing chest pain…please please mention it first. Loads of people talk about something relatively minor to start with as a kind of ‘warm up’. If your GP doesn’t know that the real problem is coming up – they will spend your 10-minute appointment discussing your verruca (entirely possible I assure you!). If you then casually mention you are worried you might be having a heart attack the verruca somewhat pales into significance. Be bold – mention your real worries upfront.

10) Don’t quote Google…. or do?Google-logoThis is a bit of a tricky one and I suspect all doctors feel differently about the blessed Internet. My own feelings are thus: please don’t tell me what your diagnosis is as a ‘fait acompli’, this is unhelpful and often quite distracting. However if you are worried about a specific illness please do tell me as I’d rather we discussed it and (a) you might be onto something and we can talk about what to do next, or (b) I can reassure you and you’ll leave feeling much happier (hopefully!)

11) Be kind

Despite what you read in the press or on many web forums the vast majority of GP’s really are trying their best to help you. If you can muster up a smile or a thank you it will make their day!

Do you have any tips you can share on how to make the most out of your consultation? Good or bad – comments always welcome!


14 responses

  1. What a great post and one that I’m sure will be helpful to many people as well as resonating with many GPs. Also totally guilty of point 3.


    1. Thank you for your lovely comment! I also really enjoy reading your blog (apologies: am terrible at commenting and seem to have rather run out of time for twitter at the moment). Its so lovely to have a little band of us Dr bloggers out there!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah thank you (I’m also not great at commenting but managed to sneak 5mins whilst persuading littlest one to nap). It is really lovely that there are other blogging docs about! I totally relate to the lack of time for blog related activities too and quite honestly I’m a little in awe of you managing to write actual medical stuff (that is incredibly useful) in your bits of free time… And with 3 little ones as well!


  2. Great blog… But just got to share the small world ness of you 2! J is my sis in law and I went to uni with and live couple of mile down the road from R! So funny seeing you have blog chat!


  3. I am only a ‘humble patient’ , but also think this is a great blog! May many readers take the comments to heart and make life for GPs a little easier…. where would we be without them? Let’s appreciate them a little more!


  4. Great post and just reading it made me realise how much time the little things takes up when you’ve only got 10 minutes. I am definitely guilty of always taking the kids everywhere with me! I don’t really have anywhere else to send them when hubby is at work though. Luckily they’re relatively easily entertained so don’t cause too much trouble!x


  5. I’m soooo guilty of running late and start every consultation with “Sorry to have kept you waiting” but as you say, I’m just doing my best. I might print this for my waiting room!! Great blog.


    1. Haha – think we are all guilty of that one! I think if you are a caring and compassionate doctor its virtually impossible to always run to time. Please do feel free to print it out…a few people have asked if it can be distributed in their waiting room so please be my guest!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Don’t quote Google…. or do?
    Well, how about the locum who listens to your story, copies it in short form into Google, selects which bits to print out and then hands this to you as a definitive answer to your problems. (Happily he’s moved on.) It can work both ways!


    1. Thanks for you comment, always good to hear different perspectives… Perhaps not the most appropriate clinical use of the Internet!


  7. I’d like to clarify one of your comments, the one about “Don’t be embarrassed”. As a senior, I’ve always had a healthy respect for the medical profession and in particular my present lady doctor who is my designated health professional. She’s considerable younger than me and she’s also my wife’s Doctor. For those reasons I’m reluctant to approach her on sexual matters. I trust her implicitly and would very much prefer to be perfectly honest with her in every respect, in order to allow her to understand me better. However, I have certain private thoughts I’d like to discuss with her but the barrier of respect forbids me to go there. Getting a second opinion would betrayal of my intention. Would I be creating a awkward situation and how should I approach these matters? Please advise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Quettawalla, firstly huge apologies for my delay in getting back to you. My advice would most certainly be one of honestly & openness. Confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of the medical profession, so anything you say will remain strictly between you & your GP. The fact that your wife also sees the same doctor should not deter you. One of the great privileges of being a GP is seeing many members of the same family, and it can be extremely useful for us in putting various issues & concerns into context. You’d be surprised at how unshockable your doctor is & we are generally well experienced in putting even the most apprehensive patients at ease. So if there is something bothering you I would go for it!
      Best wishes & good luck.


  8. Thanks for this concise presentation of concerns. Are you happy for me to use it in our Patient Participation Group newsletter? I edit and distribute it 3 times a year for our practice.


    1. Yes of course, please do share. I’d be grateful if you could attribute the article to me if possible. Thank you.


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