I've recently moved home with my family to an area I was previously unfamiliar with. We plan on staying in the area and I am really keen to find a good doctor who can look after me and my family in the years to come. Have you any advice as to how I go about choosing my family GP?
I'm really glad you asked this question because many people don't realise how important it is to find a doctor you are happy with. A good doctor will not only be there for you when you are ill but will also work with you to keep you well.
I say work WITH you because the most important person in your health is you. The decisions you make through life will impact on your health in the future and thinking carefully about your doctor is an important step in the right direction.
A good way to find out about GPs in the area is to ask around. Neighbours or parents in the school or creche are usually happy to recommend doctors they may know. Another good source of advice is your local health clinic. However your final decision should be based on your own impression of the doctor or practice not someone else's.
When you have a shortlist of doctors, you can consider them in more detail. The internet is a good place to start. Many GP practices now have detailed websites where you can get information about the team working there, services available and special areas of interest of the various doctors. Opening hours are important particularly if you are working. Are there early morning, evening or weekend appointments available? Is it possible to get an appointment to see a doctor at short notice?
Being able to see a doctor if you are sick is important so I would put access over opening hours as if you are genuinely unwell a doctor will happily give a sick cert if you had to leave work early in order to attend. Does the surgery operate a walk-in service or appointments only? A walk-in service may seem ideal but these can result in long wait times in the surgery so early access to an appointment time may suit better. Many surgeries offer both.
The out-of-hours access to doctors is also something to consider. Most practices are now enrolled in a doctor's co-op. This means that the doctors involved have a central location where out-of-hours consults are seen. The doctors who attend these clinics are the local doctors. These co-ops normally run from 6pm to 8am and 24 hours over weekends and bank holidays.
Access to the surgery is also something to consider. Is it well served by public transport? Is parking possible and what is access to the building itself like.
All of the above are important but I would say the most important thing to consider is your relationship with the doctor you see. Your doctor should be appropriately qualified in General Practice. These doctors are usually registered on the specialist register of the Irish Medical Council and with the Irish College of General Practitioners. You can check this on www.medicalcouncil.ie.
It is essential that you feel comfortable in their presence and that you have confidence in their medical opinions and advice.
Many people start by considering the gender of their doctor as many women prefer to see female doctors. I would place less importance on this but for your family, you may like a practice that has a mix of male and female doctors to allow more choice.
How does the doctor talk to you? Do you feel listened to? Do they take time to examine you? Do they seem interested in your opinions and concerns? A good doctor should also take interest beyond what you attend for. In this I mean they should be interested in keeping you well. Today most practices are computerised and keeping records this way has the benefit of allowing a doctor to review your previous attendance and illness easily. How the practice follows up on tests and referrals is also important. Do they inform you of abnormal results in a timely manner and do they ensure that results to all tests ordered are followed up?
If you have a medical card, you will have to register with a particular GP. Changing medical card doctors is quite straightforward; you simply get your new doctor to sign a change of doctor form and send it away.
If you are are a private patient most GPs have a list of basic charges in their surgery. These can vary greatly and it may be worth finding the average in your area. I would stress however that the cheapest doctor may not be the best.
A good doctor may not always tell you what you want to hear and may not always give the prescription you want but they will always have your best interests at heart.