About the GP

A family doctor is also known as a GP or general practitioner.

Your GP is usually the first person to see if you have any concerns about your health or your child’s health. The GP can refer you to specialists or for tests if you need them.

Your GP can help you with things like early childhood checks, preventive health screening, immunisation, diet, and mental health and wellbeing advice.

Why finding the right GP is important

It’s important to find a GP who suits your needs and your family’s needs.

Your relationship with your family GP is very personal. That’s why you need a GP with whom you feel comfortable, whom you trust and have confidence in, and who understands your individual family’s needs.

Some families already have a relationship with a GP they’ve come to know and trust. For other families, it might take some time for this relationship to develop, especially if they’ve just started seeing a new GP.

One GP for the whole family?

Having one GP for the whole family often works well. GPs are trained and experienced in treating people of all ages.

But sometimes it works better to have one GP for yourself and another one for your children, particularly as they get older. For example, some GPs specialise in particular areas like women’s health or adolescent health.

You might also find that one GP might not meet all your needs. For example, some people might want to see a GP of the same gender or cultural background, or might prefer a particular GP for some medical problems and another GP for others.

Regardless of your preference, a long-term relationship with your GP is important for your family’s current and future health.

Your relationship with your GP – and any other health professional – is a partnership. Your GP’s role is to work together with you and your family to help with your health and wellbeing.

How to find a good GP

Here are some questions to think about when you’re looking for a GP for your family:

  • Is the GP practice easy to get to? Can you walk there? Can you park there? Is there public transport nearby? Are there ramps for prams and wheelchairs?
  • What are the opening hours? Do the opening hours suit you and your family?
  • Does the GP bulk bill? If not, can you afford the fees?
  • Do you need to make an appointment? How do you make appointments – for example, by phone or online?
  • What are the wait times? How much time do you get for each appointment?
  • Can you see the GP of your choice most of the time? In some bigger practices, it might be hard to always see the same GP, so it’s best to check with the reception staff about when your preferred GP is available.
  • Are there other services at or near the GP practice – for example, pathology services, practice nurses, physiotherapists or dietitians?
  • How will the GP communicate with you about test results and appointment reminders?
  • Does the GP have an interest in or expertise with children?
  • Does the GP speak another language that might suit you, or does the practice offer an interpreter service? Is the GP familiar with your cultural background?

You could ask the practice’s reception staff some of these questions either on the phone or at the practice. Many GP clinics have websites, so you might find a lot of this information online.

How the GP practice feels
The ‘feel’ or atmosphere of the practice is important too, so look out for:

  • receptionists who are welcoming
  • posters on the wall that suggest that the team respects families from all cultural backgrounds
  • child-friendly books, toys and activities in a clean waiting room
  • lots of patient information – for example, pamphlets on a range of health topics
  • breastfeeding facilities
  • an accreditation sign – this means that the practice has met a set of nationally recognised standards for health care quality and patient safety.

How to know whether a GP is right for you

It might take some time to get to know a GP and work out whether he or she is right for you and your child.

The GP who is right for you and your child will use appointments to:

  • communicate with your child, even if your child is a newborn
  • help you feel confident you can look after your sick child at home
  • understand your child’s development and be sensitive to your child’s needs
  • understand how stressful things can be at home
  • help you find ways to manage your health that work for you and your family
  • recognise the good things you’re doing as a parent.

You’ll know you’ve found the right GP for you and your family when you:

  • feel comfortable to ask the GP any questions about your health
  • feel the GP has heard and understood you
  • feel you have a role in making decisions about your health
  • trust your GP has the skills to deal with your health issues
  • have more confidence after seeing the GP
  • feel OK about going back if you’re still worried or don’t feel better after the appointment.

Where to start looking for a GP

The best place to start is by asking other parents. Conversations at child care, preschool or school can also be useful.

Midwives at the hospital or child and family health nurses at your community health centre are likely to have useful suggestions for finding and choosing a GP. You can also ask your local pharmacist or any other health professionals you see.

Healthdirect Australia’s health service finder can help you find GPs in your local area.

Changing your GP

Changing GPs can be challenging, especially if you’ve had a strong relationship with your GP.

You might change your GP because:

  • you’re moving to a new area – check with your practice about transferring your medical records
  • your GP changes jobs
  • you’re feeling uncertain and want a second opinion
  • you feel the GP isn’t the right doctor for you anymore
  • your GP isn’t always available when you need an appointment.

These are all good reasons for changing your GP. It’s your right to change GPs.