By Dr Teah Mogae

    ‘I haven’t been to the doctor in more than 2 years. So, I have saved up a list for us to discuss,’ Jerry says, unrolling his ragged piece of paper from his shirt pocket. He’s an elderly man, with his back stooped over and nicotine-stained fingernails obvious to me as he tries to make himself comfortable on the consultation chair. He’s just shuffled up the corridor, looking unstable on his feet as he tries to use his worn-out walking stick for balance. 

    As a new patient to me, we review his list of concerns, and I sense that this is going to be a long consultation. There is no way to rush through his weight loss, blood-stained sputum and recurrent falls through his 15-minute consultation time. So 45 minutes later, after a comprehensive history and examination, with paperwork for further investigations in hand, Jerry is happy knowing we have a plan to address his ailments. 

    Unfortunately, Jerry is not the only patient to have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved during a 15-minute consultation. Patients present with chronic illnesses, issues relating to grief, depression, abuse, sexual harassment, injuries requiring repair, fractures requiring immobilisation and all of them booked for 15-minute appointments. 

    These are tasks that are never going to be thoroughly addressed in 15 minutes. With an emergency thrown in for good measure, it is easy for the doctor to run behind schedule. Interestingly, whilst awaiting their turn in the waiting room, each patient gets upset as their booked appointment time passes but in the consultation room, they are more than happy to bring out their long list of issues they were hoping we could address. 

    Some patients have offered up an idea of dropping off their Workcover/Centrelink/drivers licence/NDIS forms for me to complete in my ‘spare time’ so that I won’t run behind on the appointment time. 

    So here’s my thoughts on how to get the most out of a medical consultation. 

    1.  If you have multiple issues to address, book a longer consultation time. You get more value for money the longer the consultation, so rather than multiple short consultations, a longer one to thoroughly address your issues works out better economically. With that said, do not SAVE up multiple issues throughout the year and present hoping to fix them all in one consultation. Consultations about mental health, completing forms such as workcover, NDIS are ideally long consultations too.

    2.  Have a list and bring it out early in the consultation. This allows the doctor to assess if the separate issues are related, or prioritise them differently based on clinical need and plan if another consultation time is required.

    3.  Write a list of questions you have and ensure that they are answered at the end of the consultation. It is unhelpful to leave a consult worried you might have disease X because Google said so without addressing that concern with your doctor.

    4.  Reputable websites such as Better Health are more reliable sources of information than random blogs on the internet.

    Health is a human right but unfortunately government support in accessing this right has reduced with time so I hope these suggestions help provide value for money for your healthcare access. 

    Dr Teah Mogae is a General Practitioner living in Hoppers Crossing. In the interest of protecting patient confidentiality, patient stories are often composites and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.

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