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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Making a GP appointment over the phone, in person and online

Appointments can be made by phoning the surgery and speaking to the receptionist or going to the health centre in person. Many surgeries use practice nurses to help patients who want an urgent or same day appointment. They assess the person’s symptoms and concerns, and then agree with the patient how their needs might best be met by giving telephone advice or a face to face appointment. The nurse aims to ensure that the person is referred to the right person at the right time, be that the GP, a nurse, or someone else in the team. Simon, like Rowan, often phoned several times in the morning to try and get an appointment. The line was usually busy. Sometimes the receptionist advised Simon to speak to the nurse:
 

The nurse listened to Simon and advised him about whether he needed to see the doctor that day or not. Simon has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

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The nurse listened to Simon and advised him about whether he needed to see the doctor that day or not. Simon has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

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So you speak to the reception saying that you want an appointment and if you want one for that day, sometimes they’ve all gone by. It’s quarter to nine when you get through. So they say, “Well, what’s the problem?” So for me that’s not really an issue to say, you know, “I’ve got something wrong with my tummy and a lot of pains. I’ve got Crohn’s. I’m worried that it could be something that needs to be dealt with quickly.” Whereas for some people, you know, they might want, not want to disclose what is wrong really. And I think, you know, they can say to the receptionist, “I don’t wish to disclose that to you.” 

But sometimes you might feel that you’re not going to say what is wrong and they might say, “I’ll book them with the nurse.” So once you have told them, “I’m not right. I really need to see somebody.” So they say, “Leave it with us and they’ll be in touch within the next three to four hours.” Sometimes it’s immediately afterwards. Sometimes I’ve to wait, you know, from ringing up at quarter to nine to about twelve o’clock to get a call back. And normally they say, you know, “What’s wrong?” They’ll go through it with you and if they think it’s necessary for you to see a doctor, they’ll say, “We’ve booked you in with an emergency doctor on that day.” But then sometimes they’ve said, “We don’t really think you need to see the GP, what you’re describing. Can you book in perhaps tomorrow or another day for an appointment.”

To see?

Another doctor. 
Nikki and Sarah sometimes found it a bit awkward booking an appointment if the receptionist asked what it was about. Both wanted to see the GP about mental health and felt uncomfortable telling the receptionist. Nikki didn’t know what to say so just said she was feeling stressed. Receptionists may ask questions when people make an appointment. Patients don’t have to give any medical details if they don’t want to, though it could help the receptionist ensure that they get an appointment of the right length with the right person. Aphra was pleased that the receptionist realised from her symptoms that she needed to be seen quickly, but Nikki found it frustrating to be questioned about something that she found hard to talk about.
 

When young people want an appointment about their mental health, they should be seen quickly. It takes courage to ask for help. They’d only phone if they really needed it.

When young people want an appointment about their mental health, they should be seen quickly. It takes courage to ask for help. They’d only phone if they really needed it.

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How about making appointments – was it easy to phone up and make an appointment or was that sometimes off-putting or.... 

Yeah, sometimes it really was off-putting because sometimes like I needed to see a doctor, like I wanted to see them as soon as possible, and if you say…like if you say…if they say like, "Oh it's in a week's time" or something, then you say like, "No, I need to see someone sooner than that." They say, "Well why?" And then it's just like, “Oh no, what do I say now?” And you try and say like, “Oh it's…like it's like I'm stressed and stuff.” And they just sort of think, 'What are you on about?' and then they just say, "No, just come in a week." So they just…so that just sort of shows you that they don’t really care much. So it is really off-putting, yeah.

Is there any way that could be improved?

Yeah, because I think if someone's going to ring a GP and say like, "I really want an appointment about anything to do with mental health," then take it seriously. It takes a lot of courage and strength to get that far – don’t ignore it. Take that seriously and give them an appointment because clearly they need it otherwise they wouldn’t be [coughs] putting themselves out there to get, to try and get help.

And say somebody wanted to see the GP for mental health reasons, they might not feel comfortable to say the whole reason. So, if they say for a mental health reason, do you think that should be enough for them to think, 'Ah this is an emergency?'

Yeah, I think so, it should. Because people don’t go to GPs unless they're really struggling with their mental health. So I think if anyone ever says it's to do with their mental health, then it should be taken very seriously, because people just don’t go unless they really realise that they need to.
Booking appointments online
Many GP surgeries offer online booking services to patients and, since April 2015, all GPs should provide patients with online access to their medical records (currently summary information only). Online services don’t replace contacting the surgery over the phone or in person. They’re just another way to get in touch. Patients can book and cancel appointments any time of day, order a repeat prescription from home, college or work instead of going to the surgery, or look up their medications online. It’s worth asking the receptionist if the practice has a website that offers this facility. When booking appointments online, the doctor’s name will be shown with each time slot.

Simon often booked his appointments online and found it ‘really convenient...really helpful’. Auberon ordered his repeat prescriptions online too. Rowan said he’d prefer to book appointments online rather than trying to make them in the morning on the way to school, while Siobhan liked to book them while at school when she had some free time. Aphra felt that online booking would be popular with young people because ‘young people hate calling people’, though a few people who rarely saw the GP, like Louis and Gentian, had never heard of online booking.
 

Simon prefers booking online. It’s fast, convenient, and he can book a slot that suits his schedule. He likes seeing his own GP whenever possible.

Simon prefers booking online. It’s fast, convenient, and he can book a slot that suits his schedule. He likes seeing his own GP whenever possible.

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Have you made any appointments online?

I have, yes. So it’s really helpful because you can see what times are available, because sometimes when I’m on the phone and I’m saying, “Can I have an appointment with the doctor?” And they say, “Oh, such a time” and I say, “Oh sorry, I can’t make that date or that time.” And sometimes you can go through seven or eight dates and times and you feel like you’re being a trouble. But it’s just that you do have a busy life and you have to do your daily life regardless. So it’s great to see online and you can see the times and you can just choose which one you want to go to and which doctor you want to see as well, which is really good, and it’s fast and convenient.

And have you got appointments kind of quickly or have you had to wait? Looking online, have you noticed that your doctor is not available for a couple of weeks? 

So my doctor tends to be the one that seems to be booked up. Sometimes you see that he’s not available for two weeks. If I think it’s something that can wait, I’ll wait for them two weeks because I want to see that doctor. Sometimes you do see the odd appointment in that week where his name is there, which is like gold dust really. So you tend to book it [laughs]. If it’s something that I think I need to see somebody this week, I’ll look and see which doctors I know and seen a few times and I’ll book with one of them.

What do you prefer, do you prefer booking online or do you prefer phoning? 

I prefer booking online because I don’t feel that I’m troubling the team at the doctors to go through all the times that I can’t make. It’s just nice that I can see, right that’s the date that I can make. Book it, and I can put it in the diary. It’s done, which I find helpful. 
 

Louis would prefer to book online appointments as it would be easier than phoning again and again in the morning. He could book online in his own time.

Louis would prefer to book online appointments as it would be easier than phoning again and again in the morning. He could book online in his own time.

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Your mum usually phones to make the appointment. Has she…have you or she ever booked an appointment online or always over the phone?

Always over the phone. I didn’t really know you could book online and I don’t think she knew either, so it's always on the phone.

So sometimes people have mentioned in some surgeries you can book online.

Yeah

Do you think that would be something that you would consider, or you prefer to use the phone?

I think it would be helpful maybe if you wanted to book something with a specific doctor, you'd be able to see when they have appointments. I think if I knew about it, I think we'd use it but I'm not sure if my mum would cos she's not kind of with the technology. I think she'd find it a bit scary to use it, to book on doctors.

But if you were going to book one for yourself, you know in a few years' time, say when…?

Yeah, definitely. I think it's easier than having to ring up the doctors. You can kind of do it in your own time. You don’t have to be like at 8am in the morning when it opens, ringing. You can kind of book it before cos you don’t need to have someone to pick up the phone, so I think I'd use it definitely.
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