What makes a good patient?

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

By NPS guest writer, Dr. Gerry Considine

In today’s world, the customer is always right — even in the world of medicine. Patients have unprecedented choice in their practitioner; the internet is full of reviews and blogs about a certain practice or GP; and doctors are increasingly under the microscope. But what makes a good patient?

The overarching rule is teamwork — working together with your doctor can make sure you receive the best possible health care. Here are some ways patients can become more involved.

Take an interest in your health

Some patients actively research their symptoms and conditions and ask for an explanation of their results. It is much easier to explain complex issues to patients who have some background knowledge. Some useful resources include the NPS MedicineWise website, and Better Health Channel. If you use ‘Dr. Google,’ remember that information on some sites may not be accurate or reviewed by a doctor. Your GP should be happy to help you find the right information.

Get to the clinic on time

I have heard some patients phone ahead to ask if the doctor is running late in order to lessen their waiting room stay. Your doctor may be behind on some busy days, but often this may be due to late arrivals. Do the right thing and get to the clinic 5-10 minutes before your appointment time. They might even be running ahead of schedule.

Ask your doctor if you need to fast before a blood test

If you are due for a blood test for your sugar or cholesterol levels, for example, check with your doctor if you need to fast before the test.

Ask for a longer appointment if necessary

If you think your reason for seeing your doctor might take longer than 15 minutes, ask the receptionist for a double or ‘long’ appointment. This often happens when you need to discuss more than 2-3 problems and/or have a procedure done (e.g. a pap smear, skin lesion removed). Similarly, please understand if your GP can’t address all your concerns in a single appointment.

Keep a symptom diary

Often patients present to their GP with symptoms that are not very specific, for example, a headache, stomach pain, tiredness or blurred vision. This can make it hard to diagnose the problem. Keeping a symptom diary is a simple way to address this. Note when the symptom happened, the severity, what treatment was tried, and what other symptoms or activities it was associated with. This information can help your doctor immensely.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

This comes back to the point about teamwork. In the past, doctors were often thought to have the final word on diagnosis and management. Now, there is more scope than ever for open dialogue between doctors and patients and we encourage patients to ask questions about their health and healthcare.

Find out more

  • NPS MedicineWise has developed a Headache diary to help you record the details of your symptoms and possible triggers. Use the diary when you talk to your doctor.
  • Use the NPS MedicineWise Questions to ask your doctor tool to build your own list of questions. You’ll get more out of a visit to your doctor, pharmacist or other health professional if you ask the right questions about your medicines or medical tests. Print it out to take with you.
Dr Gerry Considine is a rural GP trainee who is currently working in South Australia. He sees a clear benefit for the use of social media in healthcare by not only making health information more accessible, but ensuring that it is up to date and safe.