LIFE AND ADVICE

Here’s What To Do When A Doctor Dismisses Your Problem, Cos You Deserve To Be Heard

Your handy guide to navigating the doctors - whenever you need it.
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Let’s be real: Going to the doctors is straight-up not a good time.

From the sterile white walls, toddlers with snot dribbling down their noses, trashy midday TV and the longest waiting times ever when you just want to get the hell out of there.

WATCH: Camila Mendes’ important message for Women’s Health.

However,  your health is one of the most important things you can invest in from a young age.

Not only will it mean you can have agency over your body, but it can also set you up for easier adult years.

Dr Ashlea Broomfield is a practising GP who has post-graduate qualifications with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and she has imparted some of her wisdom to help you navigate your doctor appointments to advocate for yourself and have the best experience possible.

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Open communication with your GP is a sure way to have a good experience. (Credit: Getty)

How to find a GP that you can trust?

Dr Ashlea stresses that the best thing you can do when looking for a GP you can trust is finding a practice, going on their website, and doing your research by having a really good look at the doctor profiles.

She says to look out for those whose interests include working in women’s health, adolescent health or sexual health.

“Because usually people who list those interests are familiar working with young women,” said Dr Ashlea. 

She also notes that finding a GP through word of mouth, like asking friends and parents of your friends to recommend a doctor they trust, can be a really efficient way to navigate your search.

Another great way to fine-tune your search is to look for doctors who have taken the next step to acquire post-graduate qualifications in specialist general practices from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (FRACGP). 

 “GPs who have that qualification and have post-graduate specialisation in general practice have extra training in terms of consultation skills, how to work with difficult situations, how to work with young people, how to take sexual histories.

“It is important that you look for the qualifications of someone that you’re seeing and you feel comfortable enough so you can ask questions,” shared Dr Ashlea.

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Doctors trained by the RACGP will provide a well-trained experience. (Credit: Getty)

What age can you see a doctor alone?

Dr Ashlea encourages young people to get a Medicare card once they turn 15-years-old. This means that the doctor’s record of the appointment does not go onto a parents medicare card. 

However, you can also see a doctor without another adult before this age if the doctor deems it appropriate.

“You can have your own Medicare card at 15-years-old, but sometimes when it’s appropriate I will speak to a young person alone.

“As GPs we are trained in our specialist practitioner training program around how to manage a consultation with a young person,” said Dr Ashlea.

What’s the best way to communicate with your doctor?

It’s essential that once you have found a doctor you are comfortable with and feel safe with, you can communicate with them.

However, don’t stress; the onus is on the doctor to find out the important information.

 “It’s more about the skill of the doctor that makes the person they are seeing really comfortable and finding out all the information.

“They (GPs) are trained to be able to asses somebody and what they are presenting with an issue in a holistic way so we have all sorts of little tips and tricks,” said Dr Ashlea.

What does it mean when a doctor asks about your medical history?

Any new doctor should ask you about your medical history – this is a uniform practice that must be done.

It can be challenging to answer in the moment, especially when you are used to your parent speaking on your behalf.

Dr Ashlea shared some insight into the process of explaining your health history and what information the doctor is looking for.

“What they want to know is, have you been to the hospital, have you had any surgeries, have you taken medication for conditions in the past, has any doctor or other health professional given you a diagnosis and has anything significant happened to your health in your life.”

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“Pain inherently is a subjective experience that is really hard to measure.” (Credit: Getty)

How should you talk to a doctor about pain?

Pain is a daunting subject – it’s hard enough for us to come to terms with the severity of it at any given moment, let alone trying to understand the science behind it. 

For many women before us, and among us now, pain is not always respected or acknowledged, which has meant we have to defend our claims.

If you’re feeling like your doctor or a trusted professional is dismissing your paint, Dr Ashlea offers some advice to navigate the situation.

First, what is pain?

“Pain inherently is a subjective experience that is really hard to measure; we can’t do a blood test we can’t do a scan, for example, just because we find presence of endometrial tissue in the endometrial cavity it doesn’t mean that the endometriosis is causing pain.

“Pain is often caused by multiple different things… so, a lot of women who have endometriosis have chronic pelvic pain as well and just by treating the endometriosis the pelvic pain doesn’t necessarily go away,” Dr Ashlea explains.

Secondly, how can you explain your pain?

It’s important to be able to explain how the pain effects your life. Is it pain you can still go around and do everyday activities with, or does it affect your quality of life?

Dr Ashlea stresses that “our knowledge of pain is evolving overtime,” and doctors must be mindful to not over-diagnose or over-treat a patient.

This means doctors have to “Actually look at how the condition is affecting the person in the context of their lives rather than the disease itself.”

Dr Ashlea offers the example: “For example when we look at arthritis in the knee, how bad the x-ray looks doesn’t actually correlate with how well people can walk around and use their legs.”

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Sexual health is an important topic but make sure you are comfortable with your GP. (Credit: Getty)

What does it mean when a doctor asks if you’re sexually active?

Are you sexually active? It is one of the most confusing questions that can feel overwhelming.

To clear up the confusion, Dr Ashlea offers a multifaceted understanding of the question.

“Basically, what a doctor wants to know is are you in a relationship and are you engaging in any form of sex? Whether that might be kissing, touching, oral sex or penetrative sex,” said Dr Ashlea.

Dr Ashlea admits that the question isn’t the best to determine what sexual practices someone is engaging with; however, it’s still an important process for health.

“My definition of sex is very broad so I don’t tend to ask that question on its own, I would normally talk about somebodies sexual orientation, what their gender identification is, whether they have a partner, or someone they are in a relationship with.

“And then if have they started to engage in physical ways, in intimate ways or are they engaging in sexual activity and what does sex mean to them.”

Note: You should always be honest about your sexual activity no matter how long ago it was – it doesn’t matter if you had sex two years ago. If that sexual partner had a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and you have not been screened there is a change you have been carrying it years later. 

How can you book a Mental Health Plan appointment?

Dr Ashlea recommends when booking the appointment to schedule a longer session, and if you are going to a new doctor, it is wise to book two.

“If you have never seen the doctor before you may need two appointments. To get to know each other first and then in the second appointment do the paper work for a mental health plan.”

Unlike GP appointments, which can be rebated by roughly 50 per cent of the standard fee, a mental health plan only allows you to get a specific number of subsidised visits with an eligible practitioner. Because the fees and Medica rebate may vary, therefore it is best to ask the psychologist the cost of the session and how much you will get back from Medicare. 

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“Stay calm.” (Credit: Getty)

Psychology based tips to navigate the doctor’s office

Dr Melissa Oxlad is a clinical and health Psychologist who is a senior lecturer for the University of Adelaide.

She has shared some professional advice with Girlfriend to help you navigate the doctors.

What should you do when a doctor isn’t taking you seriously?

First Dr Melissa wants you to “stay calm” because “we are more likely to be taken seriously when we stay calm and communicate in a polite and respectful way.”

It’s important that you “call out behaviour” by being honest about your feelings and be clear.

Dr Melissa also advises you to “explain that you feel as though you are not being taken seriously and this concerns you because they are medical experts.”

Above all its integral you advocate for yourself by being “firm” and “assertive” when asking your questions and that you’re getting any appropriate tests, treatments or referrals.

“Advocating for ourselves can be tough at times, especially when we are very unwell or if we have a chronic health problem. Sometimes you may need a support person to help advocate on your behalf,” shared Dr Melissa.

When do you know a doctor is good?

“You should feel as though your GP is focused on you as a person rather than on just the ‘problem’ you present with at the appointment.

“You should feel as though you are a team – working together to improve your health,” said Dr Melissa.

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Advocate for yourself. (Credit: Getty)

These are some of the signs that might suggest you should look for a new GP

It’s imperative that you notice if you aren’t feeling safe or comfortable because this is the first sign to move on.

However, there are also other things to look out for.

Dr Melissa’s red flags include:

  • Not having the opportunity to ask questions.
  • The doctor doesn’t treat you like an adult.
  • If you have different values and approaches to health. For example, “Some people may want to try changing their health behaviours or counselling, before taking medications while their doctor may prefer a medication-first approach or this may occur in reverse,” said Dr Melissa.

If going to the doctor makes you anxious, do these things according to Dr Melissa.

  • Make notes to take into the appointment about what you want to discuss; this could include a list of symptoms and questions.
  • Learn stress management techniques, “Such as breathing or mindfulness techniques,” said Dr Melissa
  • Feel the anxiety and do it anyway.

“One of the best things we can do to deal with it is facing it. Each time we do something that makes us feel anxious it generally gets a little easier and the anxiety reduces over time,” said Dr Melissa.

So good luck and back yourself, girl!

​If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website here

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