GPs, or ‘general practitioners’, are doctors trained to deal with all types of problems. They’re the first point of contact when you need help with your physical or mental health, and they can refer you to medical specialists or mental health professionals if needed. Some are free and some charge a fee. Whatever you tell them is normally confidential.
This can help if:
- you want to know what GPs do
- you’re thinking about seeing a GP
- you want more information about confidentiality.
What’s a GP?
A GP has studied medicine at university. They’re trained to help people of all ages with all different types of health problems. They’re also the first point of contact in the health system. Some GPs may have a specific focus or specialise in certain areas, such as sexual health, travel medicine, older adults, etc.
Why would I see a GP?
You can visit a GP for any physical or mental health issue. They're trained to deal with people of all ages about any type of problem. That's why they're called ‘general’ practitioners’. A GP can help you with:
- physical complaints or injuries
- sleep problems
- mood problems or lack of energy
- contraception and sexual health
- drug or alcohol abuse or dependence
- abuse issues.
If they need to, a GP will refer you to someone who's more trained to deal with what's bothering you. It could be a medical specialist, a mental health professional or an allied health professional (e.g. a physiotherapist).
How do I see a GP?
You usually need to call to make an appointment to see a GP who is working in private practice. You don't need to specify your problem when you book – just ask to see a doctor. You'll need to give your name and Medicare number. If you've seen a doctor there before that you like, you can ask for them again, or you can request to see a man or a woman if one or the other will make you feel more comfortable. If you’re running late or can’t make a scheduled appointment, ring to let the receptionist know.
You don't normally need an appointment at a medical centre. However, you’ll usually have to wait to see a GP. You'll need to have your Medicare card with you.
If the issue is urgent, or you’re in a lot of pain, be sure to tell the receptionist this when you arrive.
How much does it cost?
If you have Medicare, you might not have to pay to see a doctor. This is called ‘bulk billing’. When making an appointment, ask about the cost. Other GP practices will charge you, but in these cases Medicare will reimburse you at least some of the cost. You can read more about Medicare and medical costs here.
What if I’m nervous about seeing a GP?
It‘s normal to feel nervous about making an appointment with a GP for the first time, or meeting with them to discuss a health issue. Here are some of the common concerns people might have:
The GP won't take me seriously
Some GPs are better at listening than others. If you feel the GP isn't getting you, it’s okay to look for another one you can connect with.
The GP will judge me
Some people worry that their family doctor, who may have known them since they were a kid, will be disappointed in them for their lifestyle choices or because of their symptoms. But doctors are trained to treat you and any issues you may have, not to judge you for them. If you feel that a doctor is judging you, let them know. You can always find another one if it can't be worked out.
I'll be embarrassed
It might feel awkward to talk with your doctor about your body, emotions, sex and behaviour – personal things that you might feel embarrassed or shy about. But most doctors have pretty much heard it all before; it’s their job to know everything about the human body and any problem you might have. Once you start talking about your personal issues, you’ll find it becomes easier in future. It’s really important to be honest, so that the doctor can help you.
The GP will want to talk to my family
What you tell a doctor is confidential, unless there's a risk of serious harm to you or someone else. By law, your GP must keep all your information private. However, in some cases, they might think that your family could help you, in which case they may talk to you about and encourage you to involve them or others as an option.