While my PhD centres on the GP setting, I am neither a doctor nor a regular patient. I’d estimate that I go to the GP about twice a year, and almost always for the same thing – checking my iron levels and/or to talk about migraines.
My experience of my GP when I was growing up wasn’t particularly insightful. I had two doctors during my childhood, and from memory only went to the second when the first retired. Visits were only made for colds, or for my bouts of severe eczema and/or hayfever.
Nothing much changed during adolescence: I don’t remember having a strong opinion of my GP, probably because I hardly saw them. At no point was mental health raised or discussed.
For the last 15 years I have had multiple GPs, mainly due to moving around so much. I have tried to get recommendations wherever I am, which is how I found my current one (actually another doctor was recommended but because she was full I’ve ended up with another doctor at the same clinic).
A few weeks ago I had to see my GP to check a mole. Here are some reflections:
- The doctor is one of the few people that I interact with anywhere in my life where I feel very dependent and unequal – I’m not sure if I am comfortable with this, but perhaps I am simply resigned about it. What choice do I have?
- Usually the wait is at least 30 minutes, even when I have been one of the first appointments of the day. However last time it was 10 minutes max.
- My GP tries hard to listen, asks direct questions and makes eye contact. However, she is decidedly brisk; there is a ‘rushed’ feel to it all – that she is busy and has other patients to see, almost as if I’m an inconvenience. She speaks quickly and I am in and out in about 10 minutes.
- Despite a long history of migraines and mental health issues – and not having seen her for more than 6 months – my GP did not ask about these issues, even in passing. The only thing she always asks is about pap smears, which is a reminder that is prompted by an alert on her computer.
- I see going to my GP as a chore, somehow unfulfilling – and I only see my GP if absolutely necessary. It’s a transactional relationship. It’s about early intervention (though only of physical health) – never prevention or well-being.
It makes me wonder – is this a typical experience for others too? According to the Building a 21st Century Primary Health Care System strategy published by the Department of Health and Ageing, Increasing the focus on prevention is a key priority area. It seems there is much work to do.