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What To Do If Your Doctor’s Appointment Isn’t Soon Enough

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*

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3 Responses to “What To Do If Your Doctor’s Appointment Isn’t Soon Enough”

  1. Carolyn Thomas says:

    Excellent advice, Dr. P. I’m wondering about your thoughts on this related scenario: a small solo family practice is not accepting any new patients, but a friend of mine who has heard wonderful things about this practice in the new neighbourhood she’s just moved to decides to write a personal letter to the doctor herself, after getting the standard “sorry the doctor is not accepting new patients” response from his front desk staff when she phones to ask. It’s a long shot – after all, “no new patients” generally means “no new patients”.

    In her letter (hand-written by the way) she introduces herself, a brief ultra-healthy lifestyle summary (she wants to be clear that he wouldn’t be taking on one of those chronically ill multi-problem patients!) and why she really really really hopes he’ll agree to be her new doctor, along with what she’s already heard of his fine reputation. She even included a recent snapshot of herself, smiling, on a recent bicycle touring vacation.

    And it worked!

  2. Peggy Polaneczky, MD says:

    Are you sure your friend isn’t Elle Woods?

  3. mike says:

    Health care in this country is now at the level of most 3rd world $hit holes unless you are Steve Jobs or some similiar billionaire that can buy body parts and or doctors.

    My girlfriend has been sick for months only to be passed around by clueless doctors that set appointment months out despite her constant pain. I think they just want her to die. Her insurance is not that good. Of course the pharma company will miss her since she is a type 1 diabetic. Pain management? Forget it. Suffer and be ignored. Slipped rib diagnosis taking multiple visits? Sill not sure there if is a gall bladder issue? Wait another 1.5 months for an appointment. I dunno. Maybe some Unicef clinic in Rwanda can provide some better care.

    WTF? From the post above..
    taking on one of those chronically ill multi-problem patients! God forbid a doctor tries to treat and or cure a patient.

    That’s right doctors just treat some symptoms and push bull$hit drugs for high cholesterol despite the harm and scientific studies proving otherwise.

    I will ignore price collusion / price fixing / free markets / insurance companies / monopolies because that has nothing to do with supply, availibilty, quality, and Price of health care.

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