What to do when you get sick

Feeling well under the weather? Why your General Practitioner should be the first place you call.

Written by Dr Frank Jones

When you get sick – or when you have any questions or concerns about your health – a General Practitioner can help you to get on track to better health.

A General Practitioner (GP) is a doctor who provides whole-person medical care. They can provide medical treatment, give you preventative health advice, and refer you to specialists if needed.

If you need urgent medical attention, you should go directly to the hospital or call 000, Australia's national emergency assistance line. However, for day-to-day health concerns, your GP is a good first place to turn.

Dr Frank Jones, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President, shares some insights about the patient-GP relationship.

Why should I have a regular GP?

Everyone needs a regular GP to support ongoing physical and mental wellbeing. GPs are not only there to assist patients when they are unwell, but to ensure healthy patients stay that way.

Unlike other medical specialities that may look after just one area of the human body, GPs provide expert whole person healthcare. This means when you see a GP they are looking at every factor that may play a part in you feeling under the weather now and into the future.

Preventive healthcare is a major component of general practice. Statistically, it is estimated that 80% of premature heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancer could be prevented through interventions facilitated by your GP, including switching to a healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoidance of tobacco products.

Most preventive health activities can be facilitated at a general practice level where it is easily accessible and affordable, allowing Australians to make a commitment to optimising their health. Often factors such as lack of time, or not having any ‘obvious’ symptoms hold people back from making an appointment with their GP. However, regular appointments could result in an early diagnosis, or better still, prevention of something more serious.

What should I look for when trying to find a good GP?

GPs that have the letters FRACGP (Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) following their name have undertaken specialist general practice training and are qualified to practice unsupervised anywhere in Australia. It also means they are required to undertake ongoing education, so you can be sure your GP is knowledgeable about recent advancements in medical treatments. A word-of-mouth recommendation from friends and family is also a great way to find a GP that is right for you.

What should I expect from my GP?

GPs are experts at ‘whole person care’, specifically:

  • Diagnosis. Your GP will work with you to help define whether your problem is urgent, serious or should just be monitored. They understand and will have access to necessary tests to help you both get to the bottom of your health concern.
  • Treatment. Your GP will remain at the heart of any treatment plans you may be required to undertake, managing the appropriate use of medications and monitoring your progress. Your GP will also have an extensive network of local medical experts that you can be referred to if your issue is more serious.
  • Prevention. This is embedded in every GP consult and you can expect questions about your family medical history, lifestyle and any particular health issues to help build an overall picture of your preventative health needs.

How can I get the most out of my relationship with my GP?

Seeing the same GP regularly builds a relationship where your physical and mental needs are understood and your health risks are known. They also have all your medical records in one place, making it easier to get the big picture view of your health.

Remember, if you have a complex problem, such as a new psychological issue, you may require an extended appointment, so let the receptionist know this when you make a booking with your GP. Similarly, if there are a number of things you wish to discuss or if you need screening tests such as a pap smear, skin check or diagnosis of new symptoms, booking a longer appointment will allow your GP to dedicate the necessary time to ensure a thorough consult.

Lists work well, but make sure you let your GP know all the things you want addressed at the beginning of the consultation so they can most effectively prioritise their time with you. Prevention is better than cure, so for the average person, a trip to the GPs at least once a year should help keep your health on track.

24/7 Medibank Nurse – call 1800 644 325

Medibank members can also call a Medibank nurse on 1800 644 325 with any health question or concern, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If our nurses think you should see a GP, they can help direct you to a clinic and assist you with getting an appointment quickly.

In a medical emergency – call 000

If you are seriously injured or in need of urgent medical help, go directly to the hospital. Call 000 for emergency assistance.

Written by Dr Frank Jones

Dr Frank Jones is a Mandurah-based GP and the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

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