Currently, more and more people are being diagnosed with chronic illnesses. As GPs gain a better understanding of what symptoms to look for, they're able to give a correct diagnosis quicker. However, are patients getting the care and support they need after the initial diagnosis?
The Role of a GP
A general practitioner is generally the first port of call when someone is feeling under the weather or experiencing some unknown symptoms. A GP needs to be a jack of all trades, as they need to provide treatment over a vast array of areas, like sexual health, viruses, wounds, early signs, preemptive care, diagnostic testing and analysis, and chronic illness, just to name a few. GPs can often be referred to as 'family doctors’, as some families choose to stay with the same GP office for generations. Caring for one family over multiple generations is an ideal situation for a GP, as you can build long-term relationships where you can gain a good understanding of any hereditary issues, while building trust and mutual understanding with the patient.
Be an Advocate
A GP must understand that their job does not end once a diagnosis is given. Most people living with a chronic illness still use the GP as their first port of call, so they need to know you're on their team. This is also true even if their illness requires them to see a range of specialists. With several experts seeing one patient, it's not uncommon for them to have different opinions on the best course of action. In this scenario, a GP as their trusted doctor can advise which route to take, and what might be best for the patient.
GPs should always be prepared, as some chronic illnesses have an incredibly wide range of symptoms. Fibromyalgia, for example, can have symptoms that range from brain fog to widespread pain. You must have gp supplies at the ready, to check and monitor a range of varying symptoms.
Consistent and close monitoring will give patients the best chance of being correctly diagnosed. This is incredibly important with chronic illnesses due to the fact they're extremely difficult to diagnose.
Know What’s 'Normal' for Your Patients
As mentioned, chronic health conditions are extremely complex, so a GP must treat every case individually. What's a 'normal' day to day scenario for someone with chronic illness can be wildly different from somebody else with the same condition, so a GP needs to understand that 'normal' is subjective. For example, as a GP, if you understand that your patient can manage a high level of pain, that's normal for them, so if they complain of increased pain, you know it's something that needs to be taken very seriously.
Push for Your Patients
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there are large waiting lists in a range of sectors. However, this does not mean a GP can become complacent. Living with a chronic illness is already incredibly challenging and can be exhausting, so you need to fight their corner. Push for your patients to get the care they need. Help them to access as much care as possible. In some cases, that may mean pushing for them to receive assistance with their mental health, while dealing with their illness. In others, it might mean badgering a specialist they need to see. Or, it could simply mean advising on support groups patients can attend.