You and your Doctor

Choosing a practice and finding the right doctor for your primary care

Good health care should be a partnership between you and your GP. You should feel comfortable discussing any aspect of your health with your doctor and be confident that you are getting proper care from the practice with which you are registered.

Most GPs work in group practices but a minority of GPs still work single-handedly. Most practices provide a range of family health services. These typically include examination and treatment; antenatal care; immunizations; minor surgery; clinics for people with diabetes and asthma; health education advice; and referrals to other health services and social services. Some large practices also have other health-care practitioners, such as nurses, midwives, health visitors, physiotherapists, and dentists.

Finding a practice

Before you can consult a GP, you need to register with him or her. You can get a list of GPs over the Internet or from your library. However, before you register with a particular GP, find out about the various options. Take a look around a few practices and ask for their practice leaflet to see what it offers. This way you can check whether the opening hours suit you and if the practice offers the kind of services you need (for example, baby clinics) before you register.

Once you have registered, you will probably be asked by your GP to have a health check, which will usually be carried out by a nurse. You will also be asked to fill in a questionnaire about your health and lifestyle.

Consulting your doctor

When you need to see a doctor or other health professional (such as a nurse), you will usually have to make an appointment. You can ask to see a male or female doctor or nurse, although it may not always be possible to grant your request.

If your condition is not urgent, you can normally expect to see a doctor within two working days, or another health professional within one working day. If you do not need an appointment within two working days, you can also book in advance. You need to make a separate appointment for each member of the family. It is important to keep your appointment, or to notify the surgery if you have to cancel or change it.

If you think you need to see the doctor urgently, tell the receptionist when you make the appointment and you will be seen that day, if appropriate. If the doctor thinks you are too ill to come to the surgery, he or she may make arrangements for you to be visited at home.

If you need to see a doctor out of normal surgery hours for an urgent medical problem that cannot wait, all doctors have an out-of-hours service. You will be given contact details about this service when you register with your GP. Alternatively, you can phone NHS Direct for advice. For emergency medical help for serious health problems, you can dial 999 (or 112) and ask for an ambulance or go directly to the Accident and Emergency Department of a hospital.

Making the most of a visit

The key to a successful appointment with your GP is good communication. You should try to provide accurate information about your symptoms, past history, and lifestyle. Your GP should offer medical and health-care advice in a way that is easy for you to understand and encourage you to be actively involved in maintaining your health and in any treatment you many require (see Visiting your doctor). You should not feel anxious about asking questions about your treatment or raising issues that are important to you.

Consultations with your doctor vary between surgeries but generally average 7–12 minutes. If you feel that you may need substantially longer than this, ask for a double appointment. If possible, try to plan what you want to discuss before you arrive at the surgery. This will help your doctor to focus on your most important concerns and given them priority. It is also useful if you wear clothes or dress your child in clothes that can be easily unfastened and removed in case a physical examination is necessary.

Your health records

Before your first visit, you will have been asked to complete a questionnaire about your medical history and lifestyle. Your doctor will use this information as a starting point for asking further questions during the visit. Topics will probably include the amount of alcohol you drink, the exercise you take, and whether or not you smoke. Your doctor will also check that you are up to date with immunizations and screening tests appropriate for your age and gender (see Screening).

During subsequent visits your doctor will make notes that become part of your medical records. Handwritten notes are increasingly rare; notes are usually made and stored on a computer. People have the right to see any medical records relating to them that have been recorded since their right of access became law in November 1991. You also have the right to read letters and notes if you are referred for secondary care.

Your complete health records, including letters to and from consultants, hospital admissions, and summaries of any treatment you have received, are transferred with you if you change your GP.

Communicating with your doctor

When you are comfortable and relaxed with your doctor, it is easier to discuss problems openly. You should always try to discuss important issues first.


Doctors are governed by the rules of confidentiality and cannot divulge a patient’s medical history, even to their closest family members, without permission. If your doctor is asked to report on your medical history and state of health for life insurance purposes, welfare benefits, for a new employer, or for evidence in court, he or she must have your written consent before passing on this information. However, doctors must disclose information about patients when required to do so by law, or when they are faced with injuries or disorders that indicate a serious crime. Doctors are also required to notify health authorities about patients with specified infectious diseases.

Treatment of young children is usually discussed with the parents, but an older child’s request for confidentiality is generally respected if the doctor feels he or she is competent enough to understand the issues involved.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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