During the summer of 2014 I was diagnosed with having stage 3 cancer. Nasopharyngeal Carsinoma it is called. As a result of necessary treatments I have been left with some complex health issues which from time to time, require me to consult with a doctor. Recently I had to ring my GP surgery to arrange an appointment. 72 phone calls later …..72 phone calls listening to the same electronic message….”press option 1 to make an appointment using our automated service, press option 2 to speak to a receptionist”….followed by “sorry, this line is busy, please call back later”. Eventually I managed to speak to a receptionist and explained my need to speak to my doctor. The receptionist asked me ‘why’ i needed to speak to a doctor, and would a telephone appointment be ok? Why does she need to know this? I do not want to disclose my medical issues to a stranger. I didn’t want someone who is not medically trained knowing my details, nor do I want my issues potentially being casually discussed over tea and biscuits during a break. Nor do I wish to speak to a random doctor over a very short, impersonal phone call.
Whilst this option may offer a modicum of convenience for some people, it wouldn’t be the best option for me. When i see my GP face to face, i feel like I am valued as a person and I’m actually being listened to with care and attention, that I am not just another person on the conveyor belt of medical misery.
I’ve built up trust with my doctor over a good number of years, she knows me literally inside and out and this is the person i want to speak with. However experienced, I do not wish to speak to a doctor who doesn’t know me. Sure, this doctor can see a screen with my medical history, but ask yourself, is this really enough when dealing with complex medical issues? In my humble opinion, I don’t think so.
During a face to face consultation I can also ask as many questions as i require in order to fully understand the the specific issue I’m seeking medical help for. This also has the added benefit of keeping me calm and reducing my stress levels, which are very much likely to be at a very high rate already. If, during a telephone assessment, I forget to ask a specific question during the maximum 10 minutes you get allotted for a telephone appointment , I would then have to ring up yet again, potentially going through the same above mentioned rigmarole, thus wasting my time, the time of the receptionist and another doctor who could be spending time with another patient.
I asked the receptionist why she needed to know my medical details and the response given was “so that the doctor who calls you, knows how to help you best”. I was more than a little confused by this. Surely a doctor who is willing to speak over the phone, has an extensive knowledge of listening to patients describe symptoms and would be able to diagnose some effective treatments or refer the issue onward to someone more experienced.
The receptionist should not be asking these questions. I’m sure that on paper, when this system was developed, asking that question may seem okay and perhaps a time saving convenience to the doctor, but it really isn’t, it just makes me feel uncomfortable and put on the spot. To me it almost feels like the underlying question that is really being asked is….“Do you really need to speak to a doctor or do you just need to go the pharmacy and buy some paracetamol”