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For some time we have always been able to ask for our GP to call us at home to discuss a problem. The last 3 times I requested a call everything was fine until I declined to give any personal information to the receptionist, she then told me that my GP was booked up and that I could only get a call from a Nurse Practitioner. I find this quite disturbing as I believe my Surgery is running some selective system whereby people who decline to give out personal information are directed to a NP instead of your GP.

You may think that I am being unreasonable and that ALL the doctors are booked up, well until the last 3 calls that I requested my GP to call me, I was told that he was booked up, this has NEVEr happened before even throughout the Pandemic. The last time this happened I spoke to the Practice Manager who fobbed me off with pathways etc.

I am not happy with this as it is putting me off calling the surgery now, and I have just realised that I have every symptom of Prostrate cancer. I don’t wish to discuss this with a receptionist or a NP(they are all female), How can I take this further. It really annoys me?

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  • Hey Mel! While I can understand this is annoying, and well, you may not be wanting to overshare here, could you be a bit clearer what kind of 'personal information' is being requested? See for example this old question, where the personal information being asked for was just 'what the appointment was for'. From your remark about prostrate cancer symptoms, it seems you may have issues with a similar question? If so, it would probably be a good idea to clarify how your question is different so we don't have duplicate questions on this site.
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 20 at 9:52
  • And then, you say you want to take this further... but who would you be taking it to, who would you be interacting with? You've already taken this all the way up to the practice manager it seems. This site is one for Interpersonal Skills (behavior people use to interact well with others and achieve certain goals), so right now 'how to take this further' is probably too general, since it seems you're asking more for guidance on the whole situation/next steps, instead of about interpersonal skills. Could you clarify?
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 20 at 9:56
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    They ask why I want a Doctor to call me and what my symptoms are. I am not prepared to discuss very personal symptoms with a female receptionist.
    – Mel
    May 20 at 13:14
  • I am not asking for help in taking this any further, I know how to do that.
    – Mel
    May 20 at 13:16
  • Okay, and if I may ask, what have you been telling the receptionist so far? Have you mentioned to her that you'd rather discuss your symptoms with a male GP (or RN or receptionist) when she asks for it? If so, what's her response when you do so? I think if you can edit your post to include that, we can probably help you be better prepared for your next phone call :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 20 at 13:18
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You've got a lot going on so I'm going to try to unpack this. I'm also going to challenge you a little bit.

It sounds to me like you're asking for a call from your doctor where you want him/her to ask you what's going on. Am I correct in this assumption?

If so, there are a couple interpersonal skills that can be developed.

First of all, as someone who has worked with physicians, I can tell from experience that doctors are incredibly busy. I assume that's even worse right now with the pandemic. If you're asking your doctor to call you with no idea of why they should call, that's most likely not going to happen. I realize your hesitancy to tell a receptionist/call center person the reason for your request for a call from your doctor; I can tell from my experience that whatever you would say is NOT going to be a surprise to them. I've heard a lot of stuff - in my day I'd just do whatever was needed and move on to the next call. Within 10 minutes, I'd forgotten all about the previous call. I've heard all kinds of personal information - I just noted it for the doctor and moved on.

An important interpersonal skill (that people seem to have forgotten) is that to help people to interact with us, we need to make it easy for them to do so. Asking an overwhelmingly busy person to "please call me" without providing them some context doesn't accomplish that. It makes the interaction harder, especially if the call could be handled by someone else. In my profession, I rely on people with lesser skill sets to handle simple matters. That frees me up to deal with the things that only I can deal with. Physicians are no different - they need people to handle routine matters so they can deal with the truly sick and injured that they, and only they, know how to treat. That's not putting people off - it's ensuring that the right skill set handles the issue so the physician can deal with matters requiring their attention.

Also, providing context for a requested communication helps the other party prepare. Is there something they need to research? Will this call require other efforts after the call? By providing that context, you make it easier for the other party to be ready for you.

I note you're talking about putting off what sounds like a needed surgery. Please don't do that based on this issue you're facing. Another interpersonal skill to develop is working with professionals - understanding what they can tell you, what you can tell them, and how the interaction can work to mutual benefit. Saying "I'm not going to have surgery until [X] happens" does not change anyone's life but yours, and I can't think it changing your life for the better. I've seen people delay needed medical procedures for all kinds of reasons and the result has never been good.

Edit in response to edits in question/comments on the question:

If the biggest concern is that you are uncomfortable discussing this with someone of the opposite gender: let them know! This is not unfamiliar ground for these folks. It's not sexist to be uncomfortable discussing private matters with a different gender; it's sexist to assume a different gender can't do a specific job (such as take a message). In the end, all a medical office really cares about is providing care and removing barriers to care.

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  • I think the 'surgery' refers to the doctor's office in this case: " I find this quite disturbing as I believe my Surgery is running some selective system " (also bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2011/09/…) and it's not a surgery being put off, but them being put off from calling the doctor's office :) So I think your last paragraph is better off gone.
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 20 at 13:31
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I understand that this is a stressful experience for you, but I’m going to suggest that there are probably no interpersonal skills which will persuade the surgery to change the system for you. There may be skills that help you navigate the system more successfully though.

It’s a triage system, the GP can’t call everyone who would like a telephone appointment, so the Practice has to have a system to prioritise patients for the GP’s call list. Triage literally means allocation of resources where they will have most effect, so you are right that it is selective, but the aim is to select by clinical need, not to punish people for being reticent in divulging personal details.

To make this selection they need information. If you are not able to give the necessary information over the phone then they have to get it another way. The way they have offered you is a telephone appointment with the Nurse Practitioner, which does not ease your situation.

I do understand your reluctance, I’m a woman and I don’t much relish it if I have to see a male GP for more intimate health issues. But it is so important that you communicate to the Practice what it is you think is wrong. Prostate cancer is really survivable, but your chances go down the longer you delay.

When diagnosed at its earliest stage, all (100%) people with prostate cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with around 1 in 2 (49%) people when the disease is diagnosed at the latest stage.

So you need to find a way, which you are comfortable with, to get across to the Reception staff what the nature of your concern is.

I’ve not been in your situation, so I cannot make promises about what will or won’t work, but I do know that as soon as they understand what your issue is they will want to help. The fastest appointment I ever had was after I told the Receptionist that I’d found a breast lump.

So the essential skill is effective and appropriate communication, finding a way to communicate sufficient information within your comfort level for the Reception staff to allocate the resources you need.

You don’t have influence to change how decisions are made, but you can be more persuasive in getting the decision you want.

Persuasion and influence may seem to have somewhat identical meanings, but there is a subtle difference. Persuasion is communicating with someone to get them to do something, whereas influence is the ability to change how someone thinks to get them to do something. Essentially, whenever you’re changing the underlying way people think, it’s influence otherwise, it’s persuasion.

You don’t want to give details to the women who handle incoming calls, but you do have to give them a reason to allocate GP resources to you.

My suggestion is that you find a way to depersonalise your explanation of your symptoms, perhaps by reference to the NHS’s (I’m assuming you are in the UK) website. That would allow you to say something like

I’d like a consultation with a male GP, as I am experiencing all of the symptoms of prostate cancer as listed on the NHS website.

You would still be expressing to them that you have difficulty peeing etc, but without having to literally describe your symptoms.

But please, do understand that reception staff are under a legal obligation of confidentiality. If persuasion doesn’t work you might have to be more explicit in order to get the investigation you need. Don’t let your natural instinct for privacy stand between you and treatment.

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