A friend of mine had a hard time getting in to see her doctor for an urgent visit last week. Reeling from an unexpected and sudden family upset, she was depressed and anxious, unable to sleep or function, and her therapist was advising an antidepressant. She called her family doc, who works at a large hospital-based multispecialty group, and told the woman at the call center that she wanted to see the doctor on an urgent matter. She was given an appointment 6 weeks in the future.
Summoning her courage, my friend told the woman her story – and that she was really worried about herself and did not think she could wait that long.
“Sorry, that is the best I can do” was the reply.
Increasingly upset, my friend told the woman that if she had to wait that long, she just might kill herself in the interim.
“That’s your choice, Ma’m”, was the curt response.
“Thank you”, said my friend. “And what is your name, please?”
Silence. Then –
“Just a moment”.
“You can come Tuesday at 11:45 am”.
When my friend told her doc what had happened, he was appropriately appalled, and advised her that the if this ever happened again, she should ask to speak to his nurse or to him directly, an option my friend told me she had never even considered.
Which made me realize that not everyone knows what to do when, for whatever reason, they can’t get a soon-enough appointment with their doctor for an urgent matter.
What To Do If Your Doctor’s Appointment Isn’t Soon Enough
We can talk some other time about what is happening to health care, why that secretary up there should be fired, or how call centers, for all their efficiencies of scale, can become too far removed from the action of a doctor’s office to function effectively. None of which will get you in to see your doctor.
So here’s some practical advice for when you need to get in to see your doctor on an urgent medical matter and his/her office staff gives you an appointment that you believe is too far into the future.
- Be up front about why you need the appointment, as my friend was. This will help your doctor’s staff to triage your appointment appropriately, and most of the time, will be all you need to do.
- Ask if you can see one of your doctor’s associates or the nurse practitioner sooner;
- Ask to speak to the nurse or office manager;
- Ask that your doctor call you;
- If you can, email your doctor directly;
- If your doc’s practice is attached to a hospital or medical school, contact patients services at that institution and ask for their assistance.
Mind you, these tactics are not appropriate if you’re just trying to make things more convenient for yourself. In fact, they may actually backfire, since you may annoy the office staff for a non-urgent reason. In that case. your best bet is to turn on the charm and worm your way in. Even better, call daily looking for cancellations, and be willing to come at the last minute if something opens up.
Take a different approach for a new patient appointment
If you’re looking for a sooner new patient appointment, you’ll need to take a different approach, since your doctor and his nursing staff are under no obligation to take your call if you are not an established patient. The office manager may be willing to speak with you, however, so it’s worth a try asking him/her to call you back. If it is a specialist you’re trying to see, ask your referring doctor’s office to facilitate the appointment. If the practice is affiliated with a hospital, contact the physician referral service – they should know which practices have availability so you can get your urgent matter handled. Calling daily in the mornings looking for a cancelled spot is also worth doing. If you’re friendly enough, you’ll make best friends with the office staff, and they’ll remember you next time a cancellation occurs.
If all this fails, seek care in an urgent care center in your area, or, as a last resort, the Emergency Room of your hospital – but only if it’s a real emergency.
*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*