Dr Carol Kefford (general practitioner): Hello, I’m Carol Kefford. I’m a general practitioner, and one of my main aims is to help young people and their families understand the wide range of services that GPs can offer to young people and their families, not only physical health but mental health, sexual health, issues at school, issues in their life, and looking at young people as whole individuals.
GPs have a unique role in the Australian health system, in that they are the first port of call. People can go along to a GP with any sort of problem and the GP will obviously try to deal with it themselves, but if they can’t they have the resources to refer people on to the most appropriate person.
GPs never mind seeing somebody for something that may appear to be insignificant, because sometimes it isn’t. So I would encourage parents to bring their young person to see a GP about really anything that is concerning them.
I’d like to talk a little bit about what happens when a parent, first of all, brings their young person to see a GP. Certainly the GP would like to start the consultation by obviously finding out what the problem is, but certainly for myself I then like to talk to the parents and the young person about confidentiality.
The second point I always talk to parents and young people about is that I like to see a young person for a short time in the consultation by themselves. So I just ask the parent to slip out for a little while, have a chat with their young teen and then call the parents back in again and we discuss what is the best way ahead.
A young person can see the GP on their own really whenever they feel comfortable doing it, even from the age of 13 onwards.
When a young person does come to see me on their own, many times there are questions around how they can do that, how the doctor’s going to charge for the consultation. Young people can get their own Medicare card from the age of 15, and I really encourage parents to let their young person get their own Medicare card.
Having said that, young people can go and see the doctor without their Medicare card, because the doctor’s receptionist can find the Medicare details through Medicare themselves.
Doctors, in many areas, do of course charge privately. If a young person is concerned about this by talking to the GP, very frequently the GP would agree to bulk bill the young person if they come on their own, and this can certainly be negotiated, but individually with each GP.
The question a lot of young people and families have is how do they find a GP who is interested in adolescents? Everybody has the right to choose a GP in Australia – we’re very fortunate here – so to go along to a GP and even talk to them about your adolescent and see the way they respond, and then you decide whether that GP is going to be the right one for you or not is perfectly okay.
Then if you’re not comfortable with the GP or don’t feel that they’re quite the right person for your adolescent, well then you go and find another one. You may choose a GP who you think is very suitable for your adolescent, but your adolescent in fact decides that they’re not. So you do need to listen to your adolescent, and if they did not get on with the GP they’re not going to go back. So finding someone that your adolescent is comfortable with is probably more important even than finding one that you are comfortable with.
If you’re looking generally for a GP who is adolescent-friendly, sometimes young people talking amongst themselves at school, they can talk about a GP who they’ve found that they liked. Sometimes looking in the waiting room can be a good clue, if you’re sitting there yourself. If the waiting room has some journals, magazines, that are adolescent magazines can be quite a good sign; that the pamphlet rack contains some pamphlets about adolescent health issues; the reception staff are particularly warm and empathic, and could understand that a young person might walk in off the street not realising the system, not realising that they may have had to make an appointment; talking to the receptionist of the practice about the GPs in the practice and what their interests are can be helpful. Sometimes contacting your Medicare local might be a helpful thing to do, where they could give you a group of names of GPs who they know are particularly interested in adolescent health.