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Patients get in the way of our work

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I’m halfway through morning surgery. And it occurs to me that all our current gripes about political interference, falling income, recruitment crises and so on are just a distraction from the real problem. Which is patients. If it weren’t for them, with their demands for referrals I can’t make, antibiotics I can’t prescribe and urgent admissions I can’t arrange, then I’d chug along fine, merrily ticking QOF boxes and counting my dements.

To redress the balance, I’m going list 10 things about patients that particularly annoy me. Not the hackneyed gripes about list-bringing, inability to swallow tablets or TATT, but the more idiosyncratic behaviour that, over time, reinforces my conviction that they’re a complete pain in the arse.

1 Couples who always attend together. Yes, there may be a good reason, like oppressive relationship dynamics, social phobia or the notion that a visit to my extended hours surgery constitutes a great evening out. Whatever. By the time I notice this pattern, it’s too awkward to ask why they do it. So they just carry on weirding me out.

2 Patients who leave a message for me to phone and who are then on voicemail. And who then phone back with an apologetic request for me to try again, only to be on voicemail. Again. It makes me want to leave the message: ‘I have far better things to do than play phone tennis so please stop wasting my frigging time.’ So I do.

3 Patients who refer to ‘sugar diabetes’. As if they know the differential, diabetes insipidus, but, after consideration, have rejected it as a possibility. So annoying.

4 Patients who, when I describe the side-effects of amitriptyline say, ‘I get those already’. Although, as dizziness and dry mouth are symptoms of anxiety, which is why I’m prescribing amitriptyline, at least it makes me right.

5 Patients who present ridiculously early. My personal record is a mother who attended with her two-year-old because of vomiting. Once. Half an hour earlier. I know I should have ‘explored her concerns’. But I’m not doing the sodding CSA, I’m just trying to survive.

6 Patients who say ‘emphysemia’. If you’re going to be ill, at least be ill with something you can pronounce properly.

7 Patients who say, ‘I can never get to see you’. As if that’s justification for unleashing half an hour of symptom hell.

8 Patients who come purely to tell me about a symptom that has disappeared since they booked the appointment, saying, ‘But I thought I’d come anyway’. Great. Any other symptoms you don’t have that you’d like to discuss?

9 Patients who attend to tell me the pharmacist is ordering their repeats too early/late or in too small/large quantities. Like I care.

10 Patients for whom I’ve just spent two hours completing a DES-approved Avoiding Unnecessary Admissions Care Plan who have the audacity to go and die. Especially if that involved an unnecessary admission.

Thanks for that. I had planned to walk into my still-full waiting room and kick each patient in the shins. Now I’ve catharted, I feel better. But I might do it anyway.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield 

Readers' comments (22)

  • Perhaps you need to take a closer look at yourself regarding your first point. I attend with my wife, because she is not a native English speaker, and has come home baffled in the past.

    There may be many other reasons for this to occur, but ask yourself what your issue is with this - that is what needs to be addressed.

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  • Dear Anonymous,

    Seems like you've got your online bride, maybe you can do a search for a sense of humour….? Or stick to the Daily Tosh comment pages.

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  • Yes, number one is meant humourlessly... which I'm amazed 12:40 spotted if the "online bride" comment is an example of their sense of humour.

    Personally I'm glad patients who book an appointment about a minor illness only to bring up something serious 9 minutes in wasn't there... I'll keep doing that then :)

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  • The actually made me laugh out loud (lol)
    The couples attending together occurs mainly so the wife or husband can add in her two pence worth

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  • Point 1; couples 'weirding' you out. Some patients have someone accompany them to push their wheelchairs and help them get undressed and dressed more quickly, thus saving the GP precious time!

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  • The earliest a patient can call with a symptom?
    When I worked for an on call service we had a competition about it
    Third place - abdo pain 5 mins
    Second place - vomiting 2 mins
    First place - the omega, the zenith - no symptoms but wanted a visit because he thought he was going to get one

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  • I had a friend who was just wasting away, nothing seemed to perk him up. In the end the GP asked to speak to the wife alone. He told her that her husband had lost the will to live, interest in life etc. Only her making love to him twice a week was going to save him. As she came out, anxious hubby asked, " Sarah, What did he say? " She replied immediately " You are going to die "

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  • There's a fine line between funny and rude, you crossed it. Making fun of our patients doesn't become you. Politicians are fair game. Patients struggling under the current regime are victims, just like GP's. Time to think hard about what job you are in. Burnt out? Absolutely.

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  • Brilliant Copperfield.

    Hit 10 nails right on the head.

    I suspect most of the objections raised to this article come from patients who behave like this, and make our jobs so enjoyable and fulfilling.

    Not.

    In case you can't recognise irony as well as the humour gene you didn't inherit.

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  • The couples I know who attend together are bringing their partner because they feel they are getting poor care from the GP. The intention of the partner is to act as a witness to the GP's bad care. Perhaps that's something to think about.

    Also I have heard a number of women say their GP only takes them seriously if they bring a man along. Wonder why that would be?

    If number 1 is happening to you often - maybe you should reflect on your attitudes and behaviour in the consultation. Could you be doing things differently so that these patients don't feel the need to bring a witness or advocate?

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder