Can’t get a diagnosis from your GP? Dr Zoe shares tips to help you get answers

WHAT should you do when you don’t get an answer? 

There’s nothing more frustrating for a patient, or their GP, when you can’t find a solution to the problem.

The hardest thing to say is: “There’s nothing we can do for you.”

As a doctor I want to do all I can for my patients, and I find it very hard to accept when we can’t get to the bottom of a difficult case.

Many, many people face delays in getting a diagnosis, but there are some things that patients can do to help their GP.

The first thing is to think of your consultation as a partnership; doctor and patient in it together.

The days when a patient came in and their GP had all the answers are long gone, these days medicine is much more complex.

Yes I have the experience when it comes to the medicine, and knowing which tests,diagnostic tools and treatments to try.

But as the patient, you play arguably a more important role. You are the expert in YOU.

You know what you are experiencing and going through, you know how your symptoms feel and present, and you have a much better understanding of what’s normal for you.

All that is invaluable when it comes to symptoms that are hard to piece together.

And that takes me onto the second thing you can do as a patient – be as explicit as you like.

There is a tendency for people to feel embarrassed and shy about discussing intimate or taboo topics.

One thing I would say is, if you can’t tell me, show me. 

I have had patients show me photos of their poo, some even bring in samples while I’ve had parents bring in their baby’s dirty nappies.

You might turn your nose up and wince at the thought but as a GP I couldn’t be happier.

Photos, diagrams, videos… you name it, us doctors love it.

Never hold back, as the patient it’s so important to impart as much knowledge and evidence as you possibly can. 

I can’t say this one enough, overshare if you have to, nothing is off limits… nothing at all.

It can also help to bring someone in with you, especially if you think you’re having seizures, or there are worries about conditions like dementia.

With Alzheimers and dementia it is always important to have a family member there, it’s what we call a corroborative history – and just helps piece it all together and make sure we have the full picture.

The next thing to remember is that doctors and nurses are just normal human beings.

So it is totally normal to have personality clashes.

In some cases it can be hard to build a rapport with your GP, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

If you feel like that about your doctor it is absolutely fine to ask to see someone else.

If you feel like you’re not being listened to or you’ve come to the end of the line, try a second opinion.

It is worth remembering that some GPs will have specialist subjects. I did six months doing obs and gynae clinics, so have more knowledge of that area, while other colleagues are specialists in paediatrics.

You can ask at your surgery, or if you’d rather, it is well within a patient’s right to try a different practice in your local area.

The same thing applies for hospital care, if you want to see another specialist or try a different hospital, you have that right. 

The important thing is no one will judge you, and you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. It is normal and as doctors we understand.

If, after all that, you still feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, there is one more thing to say.

And believe me, it’s not an easy thing to say to people who’ve been struggling in pain for years.

Sometimes medicine just doesn’t have an answer, and there is no diagnosis we can give.

Yes medicine is more advanced than ever before, but there is still a lot for us all to learn.

Years ago medics didn’t recognise depression as a disease. In ten years’ time the chances are we will have many more answers than we do today.

For those people who end up with no definitive diagnosis, rest assured, once anything dangerous is ruled out it is our job to ask, ‘How can we manage your symptoms?’.

How can we make sure you still have a good quality of life? And how can we help you continue to do the things you love? 

Your doctor will do all they can to help you, and there is help to cope with the mental struggles a lack of diagnosis can bring.

We’re all used to getting answers when we need them, so it can be very hard to accept it when we don’t.

But don’t suffer in silence, start by speaking to your GP, and take it one step at a time.

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