Experiences with GPs

General practitioners (GPs) play a key role in the provision of health care to Australians and they are often the first point of contact for people with a health concern. Accessing allied, specialist and other health services usually requires a referral by a GP. GPs care for patients of all ages and deal with all kinds of health conditions. In partnership with other primary health care professionals, they provide health advice, screening, treatment and health promotion services.

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Access
GPs who specialise in mental health
Negotiating better care from GPs
Good relationships and finding the ‘right’ GP


GPs were an important part of the care received by the people we spoke to, in relation to both their physical and mental health. The main reasons people gave for consulting a GP were to discuss their health concerns, to access mental health services including psychologists or psychiatrists, and to review their medication or obtain repeat prescriptions. Most people reported overall positive experiences with GPs, although some reported having negative encounters.

When talking about their interactions with GPs, people spoke about access, the challenges of finding the ‘right’ GP, including one who specialised in mental health, and the importance of a ‘good’ relationship with their GP.

Evan has been seeing his GP for over 20 years and considers him a good support.

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Access

Most people we spoke to did not have any problems finding a GP, however a few people had experienced difficulties. Brendan discussed the challenges of living in a regional area with few GPs: ‘Where I go, you’ve got to wait at least an hour before you see someone. If you want to see the same doctor each time you’re probably going to have to wait even longer’. Ann and Vanessa also spoke about the costs associated with visiting a GP.

Ann had ‘the best GP in the world’, but sadly he died. Cost and trustworthiness were important in her search for a new GP.

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GPs who specialise in mental health

GPs who specialise in or have an interest in mental health were highly appreciated by many people. Several people commented that these GPs showed a greater understanding of mental health, were better able to differentiate mental from physical symptoms, and had a greater understanding of what it was like living with severe mental health problems. Many people described being able to build trusting relationships that enabled continuity of care with GPs who had specialised in mental health. Ann said she was able to receive appropriate care now that she has a GP who is ‘good with mental health’. In her experience, GPs without a mental health specialty ‘don’t get it or don’t want to get it’.

Charlie felt GPs who specialise in mental health were able to provide holistic, community-based care.

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Negotiating better care from GPs

While most people had positive experiences with GPs, a few described disappointing encounters or negative aspects in their relationship with their GP. These were related to GPs’ reported poor communication skills, a lack of competence, or discomfort with working in mental health. Most people expected their GP to discuss their experience of living with a severe mental health problem with them and to feel comfortable in doing so. However, when Sarah’s GP was prescribing her antidepressants, she still felt as though she ‘wasn’t seeing anyone’ about her mental health, as her GP encouraged her to consult a specialist about it.

Cindy and Carlo both described how they felt that their mental and physical health complaints were not taken seriously by GPs and consequently felt they did not receive appropriate care. In turn this reduced the quality of their relationships with their GPs. Vanessa and Evan discovered that they needed to find out about the services they required themselves, then ask their GPs about them, because they did not automatically offer them. Simon was disappointed when he realised that his GP had referred him to a psychiatrist without mentioning his ‘major issue’ of depression. Most people were able to negotiate improvements in their care from GPs by either speaking directly to their GP or finding a new GP who they were able to build a relationship with.

Vanessa has a relationship of over 25 years with her GP. She described how she had to demand a care plan that had not been offered to her previously.

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When people felt particularly vulnerable or unwell, negotiating improved care from their GP could be difficult. Charlie described how she tries to remain ‘at a certain recovery level’ so she can have more input into decisions relating to her treatment and care.

Simon described an inappropriate specialist referral he received when he was in his early 20s from his GP.

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Good relationships and finding the ‘right’ GP

Like Ann, many people discussed the general difficulty in finding a GP who was ‘good’ or ‘right’ for them. Several described consulting many different GPs before finding one with whom they felt they could develop a relationship. A few people described being in the early stage of building a relationship with a new GP, while several stated that they had seen the same GP for a long time, ranging from 10 years to over 25 years.

Chris said that when a ‘good’ GP comes his way, he gets very ‘clingy’.

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Many people commented that a good relationship with their GP was important for their mental health. A good relationship was a continuing one that featured a high level of comfort, trust and rapport. Valued traits of GPs were their flexibility, honesty, friendliness, empathy, advocacy skills, and communication skills. A couple of people mentioned that they appreciated their GPs asking them about their mood, while Chris respected his GP for ‘getting straight to the point and not asking too many questions’. Jenny’s GP had personal experiences of a relative diagnosed with schizophrenia, which Jenny felt enabled him to better understand her experience.

David felt that his GP had been a ‘really empowering’ part of his mental health journey.

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