Updated 07 November 2014

A winning GP visit

It can be difficult to get an appointment with the doctor at the best of times. You're feeling horrible and the last thing you feel like is sitting in a waiting room for hours.


It can be difficult to get an appointment with the doctor at the best of times. You're feeling as sick as a dog and the last thing you feel like is sitting in a waiting room surrounded by people as miserable as you.

A visit to the GP also costs loads of money, so make sure you get the most out of your visit by keeping this short guide at hand:

Choose your time. If you're hurrying to a meeting, or have to rush to get to the appointment, it's going to stress you out unnecessarily. Unless it is an emergency, choose the time carefully, so that you'll get there on time and not be overly panicky when the doctor's behind schedule.

Phone and confirm. This is especially necessary if you've made the appointment a few days in advance. The doctor may be ill, or attending to an emergency, and you might not want to see his/her partner. Phone to check that you are expected.

Cash matters. Find out how payment works and how much the appointment will be. You can negotiate tariffs with some GPs who are prepared to see patients at medical scheme tariffs. Ask your scheme for information in this regard. Some doctors insist on cash, while others are happy to send an account to you or to your medical scheme, if you have one.

Less is not more. There is usually one major problem that makes you see the GP. A cough that won't go away or an inexplicable pain somewhere. But there are always minor things you forget to ask about. The pain in your index finger, slight, but constant headaches or a rash that comes and goes. You're paying for an appointment, so you might as well kill a few birds with one stone.

Make a list. Being in the doctor's surgery is a potentially stressful situation. You're bound to forget things, so make a list of the stuff you wanted to ask and take it with you.

Your memory is best. The doctor sees patients all the time, and even though he/she has your medical records, you might remember things from last time which may not have been written down. Think back to the last time you were there and ask follow-up questions if necessary.

Get tested. There are many tests that can be done right there in the doctor's surgery, such as blood pressure readings, weight measurement, blood sugar testing and urine tests. Try and get everything done in one go and save yourself the cost of an unnecessary follow-up visit.

Language problems. If you are in a foreign country, or do not speak the same language as the doctor, do take someone with you who can translate. If you don't, you might not figure out what you're being treated for, or what the treatment entails.

Ask for more info. Few people can remember much of what a doctor tells them during an appointment. Write down the name of the condition, how the medication must be taken and ask where you might find more information. Go and look it up, either at the library or on the internet if you have access to either. Pamphlets can also be very handy.

Ask about support groups. The doctor or the receptionist may know about support groups you can join in your area if you suffer from on ongoing condition. This could save you a lot of money, as you can learn from other people's experiences and benefit from their support.

(Susan Erasmus, updated October 2011)


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