What is a general practitioner (GP)?
A GP is a medical doctor, sometimes called a family doctor. They are usually the first person you see for your health care in Australia. GPs complete a medical degree at university, followed by years of special training in general practice. After this, they continue to receive professional training throughout their working life. They are among the most highly trained health professionals in Australia.
Your GP can help you with physical and mental health problems, including short and long term illnesses, injuries, immunisation, and emotional issues like stress, anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Another very important role of a GP is preventive care, which might include giving you tests to detect an illness early and providing you with advice on how to have a healthy lifestyle.
For example, they can help you quit smoking, cut down on your drinking, advise you on healthy eating and tell you about the benefits of regular exercise.
Sometimes your GP might think it is a good idea if you see another doctor, health care professional or community services for further help. In this case they can make a referral for you.
Why do I need a GP?
Even if you feel healthy and don’t think you need a GP, it is still a good idea to find one and sign up with their practice.
There are a range of regular health checks that are recommended at different ages in a person’s life, and your GP will advise you on which checks are appropriate for you. This is a really important part of preventive health – a bit like getting your car serviced BEFORE it breaks down!
There are many benefits to having a regular GP or practice and building up a relationship by seeing him or her regularly. You should feel comfortable and be able to talk openly to your GP so that he or she will be able to get to know you and understand your particular health problems, needs and concerns. It will also make sure that your medical history is kept up to date and stays in the one place.
How do I find a GP?
There are many ways to find a GP if you don’t have one. Try asking friends in your area or neighbours if they have a GP they would recommend. Telephone directories will include listings under medical practitioners. The RACGP has an online directory called “Find a Practice” which gives you information on your local GPs.
Think about what is important to you, and call the practice with questions before you make an appointment. You might like to ask about:
- fees and billing practices – does the practice bulk bill, and if not what is the fee payable? (this might vary depending on length and type of consultation).
- how many doctors work in the practice, and will you be able to choose a male or female GP if you have a preference?
- what are the opening hours? Can you see the doctor after work or on weekends?
- what are the after hours arrangements?
- can you make a longer appointment time if you need to?
- how long does it usually take to get an appointment?
- what languages do the GPs speak?
When you visit the GP, you might check out the:
- waiting room environment – do you feel comfortable? What information is provided?
- location of the practice – is it easy to get to, is it close to your home or workplace?
- do you feel comfortable with this GP? Do they understand what you are concerned about? Can you talk about personal and private matters?
- do they explain things clearly?
- if you have specific requirements related to your culture or your religion will they understand?
What does the GP need from me?
Before you go, make a list of the reasons for your visit and any questions you have. Tell your GP exactly what is worrying you. Make sure you tell the doctor about any medications you are taking or other treatments you are having. This includes any complementary or alternative therapies and treatments and over the counter drugs like vitamins and supplements. Find out as much as you can about your family history, as this can affect your own health, and tell your GP. Make notes during the consultation if you want to, and ask questions if you don’t understand anything.
Remember that you can choose who you want to see. You are entitled to another opinion or to change doctors if you wish.
Did You Know?
- GPs see 86% of the Australian population each year.
- About 293,000 general practice services are paid through Medicare each day, or more than 2 million each week.
- The average length of a GP consultation is 15 minutes.
- Men are less likely than women to visit a GP. Forty-three per cent of a GP’s consultations are with men.
In recognition of the importance of addressing men’s health issues in Australia, The RACGP developed a Men’s Health Policy in 2006. This is a position statement on the role of general practitioners in delivering health care to Australian men.
This was followed in 2007 with the development of a curriculum statement on men’s health to better assist general practitioners address the specific health care needs of men in Australia.