General practice / family doctors
A GP is a doctor (general practitioner) trained to deal with general physical or mental health issues that a person of any age might have (that’s why they’re called ‘general’). GPs can be a good place to start if you’re concerned about something.
They can help or give you advice about issues including feeling down or upset, drugs and alcohol, not sleeping well, relationships, STIs (sexually transmitted infections), contraception, or if you’re being hurt or sexually assaulted.
GPs can help you to find different ways to cope and if necessary they can work with, or refer you to, other health professionals who have had further training in specific areas (eg a gynaecologist, a physiotherapist, or a counsellor) to give you support and help.
Making an appointment
When you see a GP, you usually have to make an appointment. Sometimes you might not be able to get an appointment straight away and will have to wait until later in the day or week. If you need to see someone quickly, tell them it’s urgent, as they may be able to fit you in. If you need to talk to someone now, lo-call the Samaritans (1850 60 90 90) for confidential listening support.
Talking to the receptionist can be hard. When you’re making the appointment you don’t have to let the receptionist know your reason for seeing the GP. The only information you need to give them is your name and possibly your date of birth. Appointments can vary in length depending on the specific GP and on the issue at hand.
Appointments sometimes run overtime and your appointment might be delayed, so take along something to read or listen to (there are generally magazines in the waiting room). Ask the receptionist how long you’ll have to wait when you get there. Call and cancel if you can’t make your appointment so another patient can use the appointment time.
GPs are required by law to keep information about their patients confidential (this means they don’t tell anyone else). However, if they have serious concerns about your safety or the safety of someone else, they are also required by law to take steps to keep you or others safe. Ask the GP to explain how confidentiality works if you’re unsure. See confidentiality for more.
There might be times when you prefer to see your GP without involving your parents. This can be hard if you’re worried about how you will pay for the visit. There are two potential ways you won’t have to pay for a visit to the GP:
Medical card – a medical card issued by the Health Service Executive (HSE) allows the holder to received certain health services free of charge, such as GP visits, maternity and infant care, inpatient and outpatient public hospital treatment, dental, aural and optical treatment and some social and personal services among others.
Young people aged 16 years to 25 years, who are financially dependent on their parent, each get their own card when they apply, if their parents are eligible for a medical card. If you’re not dependent on your parents, your own means and income is considered for assessment. Student can apply for the card to the Local Health Office, either where they attend college or where their parents live.
The Health Service Executive has more information about what having a medical card entitles you to.
- GP Visit Cards – if you don’t qualify for a Medical Card you will automatically be assessed for a GP visit card. A GP visit card allows you to visit your doctor for free though you will still need to pay for prescription treatment or other health costs.
The Medical Card and GP Visit Application form is the same, and you can download it from the Health Service Executive website.
Some concerns you might have about GPs:
- That the GP won’t take you seriously.
It can be hard when you feel someone is not listening to what you have to say. When you feel a GP isn’t listening, it might be that he/she does not have good communication skills. Like anyone, some GPs are better at talking and listening than others.
If you don’t think your GP gets you, you may want to let them know. It can take a bit of time and practice to get to know someone new, so if the basic vibe is that your GP is OK, you may want to give them a bit of a chance to get to know you better. If things still aren’t working out, it might be better to see someone else.
- That the GP will be judgmental.
It’s important to trust your GP. Part of this may be about feeling you’re respected and not being judged; often there’s a family doctor that has been the GP everyone has visited all their lives. But sometimes GPs have personal or religious beliefs that make it difficult for them to agree to certain things (eg abortion, contraceptives) and you need to find someone you’re comfortable with.
If you think your GP is being judgmental then it may be a good idea to let them know. If you aren’t comfortable with them, try another GP.
- That you’ll be too embarrassed to be honest about your lifestyle.
Talking about your feelings and body can seem weird and embarrassing at first, but it does get easier with practice (really!). It’s important to be honest about your lifestyle and background in order to be properly treated and get the best advice. It might be useful to keep in mind that GPs have heard it before – it’s their job to talk about this stuff.
- That the GP will want my family to be involved…
Remember the stuff on confidentiality. Your GP can only tell your parents and family what you give them permission to tell (unless of course it’s a serious safety issue or you’re under 16).
Having your family’s support might be helpful and so your GP might want to talk with you about how your family could support you. They might suggest it’s important your family is involved in some way. Talking this through with your GP might help you to work out what you want to do.
- You might feel more comfortable to see a GP who is the same gender.
- You might prefer to see a different GP than your family doctor.
- Ask about confidentiality at the start of the appointment if you have any concerns.
- Ask questions if you don’t understand something – they sometimes forget to speak in plain English.
- If you feel the GP is really not the right one for you, try another.
- Be honest about your health, previous treatment and medication (including if you’ve taken recreational drugs before) and your lifestyle, even if it seems embarrassing (GPs have heard it all before!). This will mean you get the best possible treatment.
Remember you have the right to:
- courtesy, respect and to be dealt with in a non-judgmental manner
- confidentiality and respect for your privacy
- receive accurate information, communicated in a simple, straight-forward manner
- choose your own doctor
- ask questions and have them answered
- another GP’s opinion
- feel safe and comfortable
- care provided as soon as possible
- a choice about treatment
- ask for an explanation if you don’t understand.
Find a GP on the Irish College of General Practitioners website or look in your local phonebook. If you’d prefer not to see a GP (in the case of a concern about your sexual health for example), see Think Contraception for a list of sexual health clinics.