Frequently Asked Questions about where your general practitioner (GP) fits in your health team – an interview with Dr Emma Dunning, GP, Healthify. 

Q: Why is it important to be in charge of my own health care? 

Being in charge of your health care gives you better health outcomes. People with painful conditions have less pain if they manage the pain themselves. Nobody knows your experience, nobody knows your body, nobody knows what’s important to you better than you do. Any health care provider is working with what you have told them and their interpretation of what you have told them. The doctor’s role is to help support you to look after your health rather than to tell you what’s important.  

Q: How can I squeeze all of my questions into an appointment and ensure I don’t forget to ask all of my questions? 

Many medical centres have signs saying you should book a double appointment if you have more than one thing to discuss. This is to prevent people from coming in with very different things, like “I’ve had a chest infection for three weeks, I’ve got this funny rash, and I need my usual prescriptions, and also I’ve got my son with me, and he has got a sore ear.”  

Those signs are not meant for people who have systemic or complicated health conditions where there may be many aspects to discuss. Arthritis doesn’t come with one symptom. Trying to solve four problems in 15 minutes is different from solving one problem with four various aspects. Your GP wants you to bring all those things because they are all part of the same problem. They may be unable to sort them out in 15 minutes, but they are part of the same problem.  

Q: Is it helpful to describe my pain to my GP? 

Yes, it is. There are some characteristics of pain that GPs are trained to understand. A GP may ask about the character of the pain – is it burning, is it like an electric shock, is it sharp, is it dull or aching? The GP might also ask about the pain pattern: Is it morning, evening, or after exercise? Does anything make it better or worse? Do painkillers make it better or worse? Does heat or cold make it better or worse?  

Q: How can I find out what side-effects my medication could cause – if my GP didn’t tell me? 

Pharmacists are fantastic because they love these questions, and curly questions about different medications. Pharmacists also have long-term conditions funding, so many of them can put you on their long-term conditions programme and let you have an appointment with a pharmacist to go through your medications with proper time and attention to answer all your questions.  

Some websites have medication information in plain English – one is the Healthify website, and another is the consumer information leaflets on the Medsafe website.  

Q: Is it realistic to expect my GP to be able to offer advice about alternative therapies? 

It depends on the alternative therapy. If it has had research trials done about it, and there are significant international bodies that make guidelines that assess whether things did or didn’t work, then yes. However, not all GPs know the same things. Some GPs may know more about something than another because they have had patients with the same illness or condition that you have, or they might be interested in a particular area. Your GP might go away and check it out it for you, or they might encourage you to research it yourself if they think it is safe to do so. 

Q: Should my GP know about arthritis? 

Yes. Arthritis is incredibly common. Every GP should know about osteoarthritis and gout arthritis. Every GP should know about rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory arthritis in general and be able to provide information. They may have a background level of knowledge of rarer types of arthritis. For rare or complicated types of arthritis, you will likely be under specialist care, and if you bring a question to your GP, they will tell you to ask your specialist. 

Q: What if I think I have a condition, but my GP insists it’s rare and unlikely? How can I push the GP to do tests? 

Your GP should be able to provide reasonable reasons why they think it is not what you suspect it is. If there isn’t a reason or they can’t explain it in a way that makes you accept that their explanation is reasonable, then you should explain why you think it is possible that you might have a certain condition. You could also get a second opinion from another GP.  

Q: Am I entitled to all my medical records, including old X-rays, for example? 

Yes. Legally, you can ask any organisation for a copy of all the information they hold about you – including GPs and hospitals. They might need that request in writing. Sometimes, they won’t be able to find old medical records. Physical X-ray films in particular, might not be kept, but there could be the radiologist’s report about what it showed. 

Q: I have heard of online portals like ManageMyHealth – should I use this? 

Yes. If you can confidently use online platforms like internet banking, then yes, you should use an online portal if your GP practice offers this. Ask your medical centre receptionist if they have one. 

Some tips to arrive at your appointment prepared:  

– Make written notes of what you’d like to talk about. 

– Take a pen and paper to write new notes. 

– Leave a copy of your list of questions or concerns with your GP if they ask – they might want to look it up later and come back to you with advice and answers. 

– Take someone with you to help you remember what to ask and help you remember what the GP spoke about. 

– Book a double appointment in advance when your prescriptions are due – that way, there is more likely to be one available, and you won’t feel pressured to squeeze everything into the 15-minute time slot.  

Contact Arthritis Assist to get more information on how to prepare for your GP appointment – 0800 663 463 or email 

get the most out of your appointments factsheet
questions to ask about medication

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