Making the most of your appointment

Before you see your GP or other healthcare professional, do you know what sort of help you’re looking for?  Is it a diagnosis; treatment; reassurance; problems with existing treatments; alternative treatments; referral to other health services; or monitoring; or something else?

It can help to be clear about what you’d like to come out of the consultation with so that you can be clear what you’re asking for and clear, afterwards, whether you got what you felt you needed – or, if not, whether you’re happy with the result nonetheless.

WRITE DOWN what you want to get out of the appointment with your GP or other health care professional on your next visit and whether you have any specific questions as it can be easy to forget something in a short consultation.   Write down or take with you any medications you're currently on.

BE AS HONEST AND OPEN as you can. 

  • GPs have experience and are trained to deal with intimate subjects.  They will understand any discomfort you may feel and you should find them supportive.   It may help to introduce the subject by saying “I might find this difficult to talk about” as this will enable your GP to help you to share the problem.
  • Also it’s important to share all information with your GP to help them in their diagnosis and to identify the right treatment for you.
  • Tell your doctor if you’re finding it difficult in any way to follow the treatment plan that’s been agreed.
ASK QUESTIONS Your GPs, nurses, consultants and other health professionals are there to help and guide you to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.  Many people feel they can’t question their doctor.  However, doctors may have some of the answers but don’t have all the answers – especially around what works best for you as an individual. GPs know this and It’s only by asking them questions and working together with them that you can both achieve the best results for you.   You can also ask them to repeat or clarify anything they have said if you haven't properly heard or understood or ask them to write it down for you.  
CHECK YOUR OPTIONS  about how to best manage, as well as ‘treat’, your health condition – ie what else might help to produce the best outcomes.   While sometimes there's little alternative to medical or surgical treatment, your GP can also advise whether it's an option to watch and wait or whether there are other options you can try before or instead of medical or surgical interventions.  Some GPs may be very focused on medical treatment, so you may need to ask about other options; other GPs may suggest other things that can help or other options as a matter of course. 
CHECK NEXT STEPS  Make sure you're clear what happens next before you leave the appointment - what you can expect from your health team and what your health team may be expecting from you. 
SECOND OPINION  If you’re really not sure about the advice you've been given, sometimes it can help to ask for a second opinion.  It may help to ask the receptionist (or other people who may know) if there's a GP who specialises in your particular health concern as many GPs have a particular area of interest.  If it’s a hospital consultant, ask your GP if you could get a second opinion (your GP will also be able to talk to you about your questions or concerns arising from the original consultation).

More: When it's medical help you need

  • Get the right medical help when you need it image Get the right medical help when you need it

    Pharmacists  - can help with treatments for a variety of minor ailments and also advise whether you should see a doctor (see What your pharmacist can do for you).  You can just call in to any pharmacy and ask to speak to the pharmacist without having to make an appointment.

    GP Practices - General practitioners (GPs) treat all common medical conditions and refer patients to hospitals and other medical services for urgent and specialist treatment.  They focus on the health of the whole person combining physical, psychological and social aspects of care.  

    Minor Injuries units - where available, minor injuries units can deal with minor injuries such as sprains and strains, broken bones, wound infections, minor burns and scalds, minor head injuries, insect and animal bits, minor eye injurie and injuries to the back, shoulder and chest.  Some minor injuries units don't have the facilities to treat young children so it's worth checking in advance of turning up.

    Emergency help  - While it’s important not to use emergency services whenever you can avoid it, it’s also very important that you do know when to seek emergency treatment.  NHS Choices provides some guidance here.

    If you’re still not sure, try to make best use of any available advice and information you can access, including from friends and family or 111 or online - or Walk-in GP surgeries where available (see Emergency and Out of Hours on this website) and listen to your instinct in trying to make the best decision you can in the situation.  Are you worrying unnecessarily and can afford to watch and wait or is this a situation that you feel needs urgent attention to avoid serious consequences?  

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