You’re new in town, and you wake up with a splitting headache after spending half the night throwing up. In short, you need to get to a GP.
So what do you do? Grab the Yellow Pages and check the medical lists until you find the first name in your area? Well, it’s a start, as you need medical attention right away. But when choosing a GP for the long haul, there are a few other factors to consider:
Coming recommended. There are few things as reliable as someone who comes recommended. If your new neighbour or a colleague has been going to a particular GP for years and has found his/her services great, you can’t go far wrong. If there were any problems, they would probably have surfaced by now. Another good person to ask for a recommendation is the local pharmacist – they deal with all the doctors in the area.
Within easy reach. For a really good GP you might want to travel a few extra kilometres, but remember most of the time you will be travelling there, you won’t be feeling that great. Minimise the driving, and find one with in a few kilometres of where you live or work.
The age thing. With age comes experience, yes, but younger GPs also qualified more recently and might be more up-to-date with what’s happening in the medical world. The choice is yours. Just remember, if you choose a GP who is a few years younger than you are (given you are at least 32!), he or she might see you through to the end. Older GPs retire, and then you’re back to square one again. And remember, some people feel more comfortable with men – others with women. Let that influence your choice.
Areas of speciality. If you have a specific condition, it is quite in order for you to ask whether your GP has up-to-date knowledge on the subject. If not, ask for a recommendation to someone else who does. While you’re about it, find out a little about their qualifications, such as when and where they qualified.
Bedside manner. This is important. Very important. If your GP makes you feel uncomfortable, or that you’re wasting her time, your search is not over. You are the client, you are paying for the service and deserve to be listened to and checked thoroughly. A bit of sympathy and a sense of humour will also not be out of place. And of course the ability to deal with your kids, and your parents, if needs be.
Willingness to refer. Good GPs know when something is beyond them, and they will refer their patients to specialists in the field. Beware of GPs who will prescribe endless courses of antibiotics, without getting to the root of the problem.
Parking. This might sound silly, but if you have a child in the car vomiting and running a high temperature, you don’t want to drive round the block five times while looking for that elusive parking spot. You want to know you will find parking right there at the front entrance.
Equipment. If you get the feeling that there is some basic equipment lacking in the GP’s office, or that it is not as clean as you think it should be, take heed and hit the road. All is not well.
Reasonable fees. Going to the doctor can be a costly expedition, but if your GP charges much more than other GPs in the area (remember you can phone to find out), either ask for a discount, or keep searching. It is also much more convenient to get a GP who is contracted in to medical schemes.
Receptionist. This is an important person. She is your first port of call, and any messages and information between your doctor and yourself might need to go through her. If she treats the waiting room as her personal parade ground, or is indiscreet about medical matters, or impolite in any way, mention it to your doctor. If things don’t improve, remember that you do not have to deal with Attila the Hen – especially if you’re feeling sick.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2010)