How to get the most out of your GP appointment

Treatments & procedures

How to get the most out of your GP appointment

Updated April 2024 | 5 min read
Expert contributor Dr Rebekah Hoffman, NSW Deputy Chair, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
Words by Lucy E. Cousins

Maximising your time with your doctor can bring real health benefits. Here’s why preparation is key to getting more out of your GP appointments.

On average in 2022, Australians visited a doctor 6.8 times a year. But knowing how to get the most out of your GP appointments can be daunting. You might feel rushed or embarrassed by your symptoms, or perhaps you’re seeing a new doctor for the first time. Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t stop you from seeking out the level of care you need, says Dr Rebekah Hoffman, from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Your GP should be the first point of contact for any non-emergency health concerns or check-ups, so it’s important to find one who is local, approachable and "fits your values", she says.

"I always recommend finding a doctor when you’re well, so you're on their books," she adds. "That way, when you're sick, you already have someone you trust."

Dr Hoffman advises against looking up symptoms on ‘Dr Google’ – something that 66% of Australians do on a regular basis, according to a recent survey.

"If you are concerned in any way, call and make the appointment," she advises. "I’d rather you came in and we reassure you than have you sitting up at 2am Googling down a rabbit hole of despair."

How to book a GP appointment

Depending on how urgent your situation is and where you’re located in Australia, you may be able to make a GP appointment right away, or you may have to wait a few days before you can see your doctor.

Do I need a short or long GP appointment?

The length of a standard consultation with a GP is up to 20 minutes, but you can book longer appointments. Ask the receptionist for advice on how much time you might need. If you’re booking online, think about how many separate issues you want to speak to the doctor about.

According to Dr Hoffman, if you’re only speaking about one or two issues, a short appointment should be enough – depending on the complexity of the issues. These might include getting a particular symptom checked or requesting a prescription.

"Generally, if it's something we've discussed before or if it's to get test results, then a short visit should be fine," she says, "but if you have three or more issues, book a long visit, because then we have the luxury of time."

If you do have a regular GP, you may want to consider joining MyMedicare – a new government initiative aimed at strengthening the relationship between patients, their GP and primary care teams. The idea is that by registering with your GP, you’ll be able to create greater continuity of care, access a range of benefits, including longer telehealth consultations and easier access to Medicare rebates.

Should I book a telehealth or a face-to-face appointment?

Around 24% of Australians had a telehealth consultation with a GP in 2022–23, and with telehealth services like HCF's partner GP2U readily available, it can be an accessible alternative, particularly in regional areas.

If you’re not sure whether to book a telehealth or face-to-face appointment, Dr Hoffman says to consider what issues you’d like to discuss. For general health advice, script renewal, test results or some referrals, a telehealth appointment is a good option.

"For anything I need to physically see you for – taking your blood pressure, doing a urine check or something similar – then I need to see you face to face," she explains.

However, when it comes to children, the preference is to see them in person if possible.

"I get a lot more from having a child in the room with me because it's really easy [to tell] if this is a sick child [or] this is a well child, just from looking at them [in person]," she says.

How much is a GP appointment?

GP visits are either partially or fully covered by Medicare and costs vary from clinic to clinic.

When you’re making your appointment, ask about the fees and check to see if your GP offers bulk billing. This is where your GP will bill Medicare directly for 100% of the cost of your visit so you have no out-of-pocket costs. If they don’t, check to see what the Medicare rebate would be (the amount Medicare will pay for your visit) and the gap you'll need to pay. You’ll need your Medicare number to claim this service.

Most GPs are mixed billing. This is where patients eligible for a higher Medicare rebate – like children or seniors – are bulk billed, while others are charged a higher fee than the Medicare rebate and will need to pay a gap fee to make up the difference. For example, if you’re charged $85 for a 20-minute consultation and the Medicare rebate is $41.40, your gap payment will be $43.60.

Does private health cover GP visits?

In Australia, private health insurance can fill the gaps in Medicare’s coverage when it comes to doctors' services provided in hospital, and it gives you more choice about your treatment. It doesn’t generally cover GP appointments, but HCF’s partnership with GP2U, an online video GP service, does makes it easier and faster for eligible members to access telehealth services. All HCF members with health cover can access a GP consultation (up to 10 minutes) for a fee of $50.

How to prepare for your GP visit

Dr Hoffman suggests writing down a list of things to discuss with your doctor before your appointment. "That way you can go through that list [together] and work out if you've booked enough time."

Whether you're seeing a new doctor or your regular GP, consider bringing the following:

  • a list of any symptoms you'd like to discuss
  • copies of any recent test results
  • any relevant details of your medical history
  • an idea of your family history, including any hereditary diseases
  • a notebook or phone to take notes, or perhaps a support person to take notes for you so you can focus on the conversation
  • a translator if English isn’t your first language.

What to expect during your GP appointment

When you visit your GP, be prepared to answer a range of questions about your lifestyle and diet. While some may seem irrelevant to the health issue in question, they’re all important for working out the best treatment plan.

"Doctors aren't always the best at explaining why we're asking some of those tricky questions," says Dr Hoffman. "So, if you're not sure, just ask us."

How much detail do I need to give my doctor?

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to visiting your GP, says Dr Hoffman, adding that patients shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions they may find embarrassing or talk about sensitive issues or symptoms.

"I can absolutely promise you we have heard it before," she says, "and we can't find a diagnosis or can't make a plan if you don't tell us everything." Before you leave the doctor’s office, make sure you’re clear on the next steps in your treatment plan. This may include details of any follow-up appointments, referrals, prescriptions and instructions.

It's important that you feel confident in the advice you're being given and understand all your treatment options. If you're not sure about a diagnosis from your GP, don't be afraid to seek a second opinion. HCF will connect eligible members to a network of independent, Australia-based medical specialists for a free second opinion on a health condition you’re worried about*. You'll have the chance to ask questions so you can confidently make the best decision for your health.

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Important information

* You must have had hospital cover for 12 months and a specialist consultation to use this service. Excludes Accident Only Basic cover, conditions apply.

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