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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Email and online contact with the GP and the surgery

Telephone and online consultations (appointments) between patients and doctors have become more and more a part of normal everyday practice. Email consultations may be used for certain kinds of medical issues such as test results, medication queries, questions about referrals and recent appointments, and queries relating to reports and forms. The questions are answered by a GP.

Auberon felt that it would be good to email GPs a quick question that didn’t need a visit in person, and Ish thought that online consultations were particularly good for people who work.
 

It can be hard to attend appointments or have telephone consultations when you’re at work. Emails are easier and you can look at them when you have time.

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It can be hard to attend appointments or have telephone consultations when you’re at work. Emails are easier and you can look at them when you have time.

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Would you like to reach your GP by email? Do you think that would be helpful?

Yeah, I think that would be helpful. That makes it a lot easier, especially if you’re someone who’s, if someone’s working, it’s a little bit hard to be available, to be over the phone, you know, all the time.  

It’s more of a, first of all, you don’t want it on your voicemail. Second of all, it’s a lot better if you just like have an email and it’s just waiting for you. And it’s right there in front of you and just like if you’re working, it’s kind of hard to schedule in a conference call with your doctor basically. They’re going to miss you. You’re going to miss them. At the same time they’re going to call at the same time and all that kind of stuff. So just like being reachable over email helps a lot. 
Simon, who has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s, felt that online access would be ‘really helpful’ for getting blood test results instead of having to phone the surgery. Being able to go online and see hospital letters and test results would help patients feel that they have more control over their healthcare.

Lara was in favour of GP surgeries using modern technology that could save patients from going into the surgery, but wondered if emailing the GP might involve a long wait for a reply. Ambeya also felt that emails to GPs might take too long to get a reply to, especially if lots of patients started contacting the GP online.
 

Doctors are very busy. It may take them a while to find the time to reply to emails. But using technology is a useful way of asking GPs questions.

Doctors are very busy. It may take them a while to find the time to reply to emails. But using technology is a useful way of asking GPs questions.

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Lots of people use email these days, and they started thinking, “Maybe we could answer emails.” Would you feel comfortable if you had a question to email the doctor or the nurse your question?

Yeah, but the thing about email is, if lots of people are trying to email this doctor, then it could take him like, cos he’s also got his job. So it could take him a long time to answer. But like maybe in between appointments or whenever he has a free time, he could answer I guess.

So phone would be one way. Possibly email. What if you could text a question at a certain time in the day and then they text back? Would that be helpful or not really? What do you think?

I think, cos like mostly everything’s with technology nowadays, anything to do with technology will be more useful than actually having to go in and ask the question.
Aphra thought that an online consultation might be useful for something like a rash that could be photographed and sent to the doctor. She liked the idea of booking GP appointments online, which she thought were good for young people who dislike talking on the phone, but also felt that ‘there’s a lot to be gained from sitting opposite somebody and going through’ the issue.

When Siobhan was 14 and went to talk to the GP about depression and self-harm, she found it hard to ‘spit it out’ to a doctor she hardly knew. She later heard about a chat room in another country that had qualified GPs who could give advice 24/7. She would have liked to have had access to something like this when she was having problems. She would also have found it easier to ‘email a summary’ of what she wanted to talk to the GP about before the first appointment. Sarah, Nikki and Sophie also felt that writing things down for the doctor to read before an appointment could be easier for young people who find it hard to talk about mental health to a GP they don’t know very well.
 

Young people sometimes find it easier to talk online than in person. Talking to a GP can feel daunting. Siobhan liked the idea of an online chat room.

Young people sometimes find it easier to talk online than in person. Talking to a GP can feel daunting. Siobhan liked the idea of an online chat room.

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I found out like the other day that there’s this, it’s like a chat room but with doctors. And you can like, they’re all certified. I think it’s in Sweden or summat like that. But you can talk to a doctor like 24 hours a day and get advice with that. Cos like sometimes young people in particular find it easier to talk over a computer cos there’s a barrier. So . . .

So that would be good? Like a chat room where you can ask a question 

[mhm]

-- but the person is qualified to answer the question?

Yeah.

You would find that helpful?

Yeah.

And say that service had been around then, when you were 14, do you think you would have used it if you’d known about it?

Yeah, that would probably be the first thing I’d do. Like cos sometimes like I find it, cos I find it difficult to talk face-to-face situations. And doctors are always in a suit and tie. And that’s quite daunting I think. It’s, I feel like it’s going to a teacher sometimes.

So it’s sort of feeling like an authority figure there?

Yeah.

So say there was an option like that at that time when you could have emailed the doctor before the appointment to say everything that was on your mind.

Yeah.

Would that have been easier rather than having to talk about it?

To an extent, yeah. Cos like if you go in after, they are gonna ask you questions about it. And sometimes like I feel like they’re being nosy even though I know they’re just doing their job. But I do think it would be good to be able to just put a summary of what you’re coming about, rather than just going, “What’s up with you?”
Peter said he always prefers face to face appointments but online chat could be useful for minor issues. It would be hard to tell, though, who a patient was actually speaking to. Hazzan felt uncomfortable with email consultations and felt that they could take too much time. He thought that it could ‘take quite long for the actual session to be complete before the young person feels content with the situation’. Gentian felt that phoning a GP was better than emailing because emails might not get answered, and that hearing a voice is better than ‘just reading’.
 

With online consultations, it would be hard to know who’s answering your questions and who can access the conversation. Peter prefers seeing his GP.

With online consultations, it would be hard to know who’s answering your questions and who can access the conversation. Peter prefers seeing his GP.

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I always would prefer to have a face to face meeting, but for something that’s a bit smaller for, you know, if you just want to check that everything's OK, then maybe, you know an online chat maybe…But you can often feel, you're not quite sure who you're speaking to, so you don’t feel as comfortable saying some things to them as you would in a face-to-face, in the consultation. Online you, you're never really sure who…well who can access what you're saying.  
Isaac had never heard of the possibility of online consultations, and Lucy said she disliked the idea of them. She found it helpful, though, to talk to people on an online forum when she was having issues with anxiety and panic attacks:
 

Lucy liked an online forum where people with experience of listening to mental health issues supported those who wanted to talk.

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Lucy liked an online forum where people with experience of listening to mental health issues supported those who wanted to talk.

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I went on a website called 7 Cups of Tea. And that’s basically just for people, you can either be a talker or a listener I think. And I think you pick if you’re above or under 18. And if you’re a listener, you’re signed in to the account. You say what you personally think you’re good at giving advice on. You’ll talk to people and then like people will tell you their problems, they’ll tell you how they’re feeling. 

And it’s just like quite nice cos it’s people that sort of get it. And then people can rate them on how they think they have done and things like that. And it’s like people from all over the world. And it’s like really good. And then if you log out of that, you then become the talker. So you can then talk to them, rate them if you want.

The same person? Or talk to different people?

You can talk to different people. You can talk to like loads of people.
But say if you go on and it’s like your first time on there, you don’t have an account but you want someone to talk to. It could come up with one person and you feel like, “Oh, I don’t like this person.” You can like log out of that chat and go on to a different chat. You can just find someone that you feel good to talk to. You can browse different profiles of people.

Is that through email talking? Or.... 

It’s kind of like more of a Messenger. So sort of like on Facebook, yeah.  That’s pretty good. And then because, when you go on other people’s profiles, it’s often recommended that they write a little bit about themselves, where they’re from, just in case of languages and that. And what they tend to specialise in or what they’re good at talking to or what they’re good with empathising about. So it could be like, “Oh, I know about self-harm, anxiety and...” I don’t know, whatever, whatever they might put. So that’s a good website. I like that.
There are also commercial websites selling online and telephone consultations with private GPs, but none of the people we spoke to had used these.
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