Guide to choosing a GP

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  • Updated:6 Feb 2006

01.General practicioners

The relationship you have with your doctor can be one of the most crucial in your life, particularly if you have a chronic condition or develop a serious illness.

Your GP will:

  • co-ordinate your care and refer you for tests and to specialists, nursing and other health services so you get complete healthcare.
  • help you stay in good health and prevent unnecessary visits to a hospital.

A positive ongoing relationship with your GP is extremely valuable, making it all the more important to choose the right one.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2006 but is still a useful guide today.

If the relationship with your current GP isn’t working you might be thinking of looking around for a new one. Or you might need a new doctor because you’ve moved house, or your usual doctor is retiring, for example.

To find a new GP you can:

  • Ask your current doctor for advice, if your relationship’s good.
  • Ask for recommendations from family, friends and neighbours.
  • Ask the local pharmacist or other medical professionals who have dealings with doctors in the area.
  • Ring your local Division of General Practice (ADGP) and ask for a list of the doctors practising in your area. Some divisions can even provide additional information about the doctors — interests and expertise or languages spoken, for example.
  • Professional associations such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) may also be able to help.

See Useful contacts for details. 

What to look for

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of possible doctors, visit their practices and consider the following:

  • Location. Is the practice reasonably easy for you to get to? You might find it more convenient to see a GP closer to your work rather than home.
  • Opening hours. Extended hours are an advantage if you have a chronic condition that tends to flare up at odd times. Medical centres tend to be open longer hours than traditional surgeries, but you won’t necessarily get to see the same doctor every time unless you book in advance. If you need a prescription or some other medical attention outside your regular doctor’s surgery hours you might find it convenient to drop into a 24-hour medical centre and see a different GP. If you do this, tell your regular doctor about the visit and any medication that was prescribed. Continuity of care is important for good health, particularly if you have a chronic condition, and incomplete medical records can be a problem.
  • Home visits. Does the practice offer this service? (It’s interesting that a recent study found that, compared with young GPs (under 35), older GPs provided more home visits and attendances at residential aged-care facilities.)
  • Language spoken. If English isn’t your first language, non-English language skills from GPs and other staff might be important.
  • GP gender. If the gender of the doctor treating you is important to you then it's worth asking about this before attending the practice. Interestingly, a study in 2005 found that older GPs (65+) and female GPs generally provided longer consultations, so if you tend sometimes to feel rushed, bear it in mind.
  • Premises. Do the rooms look clean and inviting? If you’ll be going there with small children, are there toys and/or an area where they can play?
  • Information. Printed health materials on offer in the waiting room are a plus — they show the practice is aware of the importance of public health education. A Practice Information Sheet provides information on fees, appointments, home visits, repeat prescriptions and so on.
  • Specialities. Do any of the doctors have extra qualifications or areas of expertise that might be of benefit to you? A diploma in obstetrics or paediatrics can be useful if you’re a woman in her reproductive years or you have young kids, for example.
  • Accreditation. There are agencies (Australian General Practice Accreditation — AGPAL — and General Practice Australia — GPA, for example) that independently rate the quality of general practices and award accreditation to practices that meet a benchmark quality standard. Ask the practice if it’s accredited or look for an accreditation certificate or logo on display.
  • Billing. Ask how you’ll be billed when you make an appointment. You may be able to get a discount if you pay upfront; it may cost more to have an appointment on a Sunday; or the practice may bulk-bill. See Bulk-billing for details.

Once you’ve chosen, take the plunge and go in for a consultation. There’s no obligation to go back to that doctor if you’re not satisfied. Your final choice should be a GP with whom you feel most comfortable — one whose knowledge and judgment you trust, and with whom you can talk freely and openly.

A positive ongoing relationship with your GP is extremely valuable.



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