It can be tricky for a doctor to be a patient and for a doctor to be comfortable treating another doctor. But the reality is, every doctor needs a GP to provide objective health advice and support.
Doctors, like most people, delay getting a GP until they are really sick, then makes it difficult to find the right person who you can connect with. It’s far better to have a GP as a regular part of your personal health care, so you can access support and advice that you trust, when you need it most.
Build a relationship
You need time to develop a relationship with a GP, to ensure you understand their style and are comfortable with their approach. It is important to understand our expectations of how our GP will work with us. It is a dynamic relationship that forms over time. No one is going to provide your care in precisely the way you imagine they should. All doctors have different styles, so it is important to make time to get to know each other and build rapport and trust.
Going to your GP for regular, even mundane, health issues with the purpose of establishing a relationship is a good approach. This is easier said than done when you are feeling well, you know you are time poor, and you think you can manage your health issues well enough.
However, unless you fostered a good doctor-patient relationship, you can find yourself isolated and without a health advocate when a significant illness occurs. Health issues or personal difficulties may arise when you least expect it. There is good evidence that knowing your GP is a key enabler for doctors accessing timely care for major health issues.
Accept being a patient
Being a doctor can make it difficult to accept the role of patient. You’re no longer talking as a colleague, nor as a friend, instead, you find yourself in a therapeutic relationship – which feels very different. Both the treating-doctor and doctor-patient need to maintain a focus on their roles.
Be honest about being a doctor. It’s common for doctors to think they need to hide that they’re a doctor to ensure they receive ‘normal care’. Not disclosing that you’re a doctor can create problems later in the therapeutic relationship as it becomes self-evident over time. Reassure your GP that even though you are a doctor, you’d like to be treated as a ‘normal patient’.
Be prepared to be uncomfortable – all patients are. Patients are uncomfortable about the questions, about the examination, about the recommended investigations. This discomfort can be resolved through dialogue, so own your patient role and engage, ask questions and get clarification. It’s ok to decline a specific test or procedure being offered, but have the conversation rather than just not going back to the GP. Once you have established a relationship with your GP, should see them regularly to strengthen that relationship. It may not be often, but you should attend regularly.
As a doctor, you are health literate so it’s entirely logical that you’ll have ideas about treatments or investigations for your symptoms. All patients, including doctor-patients, have a right to be engaged with the shared decision-making process but this doesn’t mean you should tell your GP what to do. You should express your thoughts during the consultation, so that any concerns and expectations are understood and addressed. You’re allowed to be proactive but it’s important to maintain appropriate boundaries. This will help your GP to maintain their role as treating-doctor.
Your GP is not there to ‘rubber-stamp’ your ideas and requests. Your GP is there to discuss your health and your expectations with you and provide advice about the best steps to maintain your health and wellbeing.
All patients, including doctor-patients have a right to confidentiality. You can discuss this with your doctor if you have any specific concerns. You should discuss issues such as referrals, x-rays, pathology requests and prescriptions with your GP. Arranging your own can interfere with the therapeutic relationship and trust with your GP. You also need to be aware of, and follow the appropriate guidelines within the Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Medical Practitioners.
Most GPs care for the whole family, so doctor-patients should consider engaging with the GP that knows their family. If your family doesn’t have a GP, then it’s worth ensuring that everyone in the family has access to independent care. Having the same GP can have advantages for you, your family and your GP.
How to choose a GP?
There are many things to consider when choosing a GP and everyone prioritises these according to their personal needs.
If the doctor is related to you, or someone you work with, or a colleague you interact with on a close personal basis, then this is probably not the best person to be your GP
Consider how easy it is to get to the doctor you intend to go to. Is this a reasonable journey to make if you are unwell?
Does it matter to you how old the doctor is, whether they are younger than you, or older than you. Consider how you’ll manage the dynamics if there is a significant age difference.
Does it matter to you if the doctor is the same or a different gender to you, especially if they need to ask intimate questions or perform more intimate examinations.
- Religious beliefs/Cultural background
Does it matter to you whether the person has specific religious beliefs or is of a specific cultural background? These issues can be important for some people but of no importance for others. There are benefits when cultural dissonance is avoided, but confidentiality and independence may be more difficult to navigate at times.
- Special interests
You might prefer a doctor who has a strong interest in a specific area of medicine such as mental health or women’s health but consider your long-term needs too.
- Hours, part-time, afterhours, backup
If you choose a doctor who works part-time, then it may be difficult to get an appointment at a time that suits you. If you can’t see your usual doctor, are you happy to see the others who work at that practice? Does your GP have any afterhours arrangements and do you know what they are?
Do you have expectations about the cost of the consultation? Are you assuming that you will be bulk-billed? Have you discussed the fee and gap payment with the treating-doctor?
Are you prepared for the fact that your treating-doctor may have a different style of practice to you? Even if you enjoy the conversation at a meeting, it does not mean that you would approach the consultation in the same way. Be prepared for things to be a different to your expectations. If you’re worried that an issue is not being addressed, or that a piece of history has not been requested, then be proactive and ensure that these issues are presented openly. Don’t expect your doctor to be able to read your mind.
Professional competence is difficult to measure as a patient. Professional reputations may be helpful but you need a professional relationship with a doctor who is compassionate; one you can build rapport with. The measure of competence is something all patients determine over time.
So consider your needs, do the research, make a booking and start to find the right GP for you.
This story is based on the article ‘Choosing a GP’ by Dr Margaret Kay, published on the Doctors’ Health in Queensland website. Reproduced with permission.
If you need confidential support, please contact Doctors' Health in Queensland on (07) 3833 4352 to speak to one of their on-call doctors. For immediate help call lifeline on 13 11 14.