Getting in to See the Doctor, Quickly
By Paul Konowitz, M.D., Medical Director of HealthAngle
Imagine that your throat is suddenly invaded by bacteria, causing severe pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, and perhaps an inability to get out of bed. You quickly go to take an analgesic such as Tylenol, but then what? Most of us would call our doctor with the expectation that he or she would be able to see us in a relatively timely fashion. In the reality of today’s medical world, however, the answer to a request for an appointment is often “no,” as well as “if the problem is so severe, you will have to go to the emergency room.”
So how can you get that doctor’s appointment you need, either with your own physician or a specialist? How do you get past the receptionist who answers the phone and says, “Sorry, we don’t have an appointment for two months”?
When speaking with a receptionist, always try to explain your situation in a bold and forthright manner that proves to them that you have a problem that should be taken seriously. If someone called my receptionist and said he had a sore throat, she wouldn’t necessarily try to make additional time in my schedule to see him. But if he said he had a sore throat and it felt like his throat was closing, this might indicate a more serious issue. If you have a critical issue, explain it. Let them feel your pain; you want them to have sympathy for you and your sense of urgency.
Go to the Next Highest Authority
You’ve begged and pleaded with the receptionist for an appointment, but to no avail. This is the time to ask to speak with your physician’s medical assistant, secretary, nurse, or physician’s assistant. Although you may not be able to reach any of them right away, leave a detailed message in their voicemail (or with the receptionist), and they will often get back to you in a timely fashion. Most of the time, these messages will also be reviewed with your physician or the specialist in question, who may recognize that you need to be seen sooner rather than later. Be patient and don’t be afraid to call back a few hours later if you don’t get a response. Be polite and persistent.
Ask for the Manager
Just like in retail, it often works to ask to “speak to the manager.” Almost all medical practices have an office manager or practice administrator who has the authority to fit you in. Just like with the receptionist, appeal to his or her sense of humanity, in addition to letting them know how important it is for you to receive an appointment.
Many physicians and many practices now utilize email as a means of communicating with their patients. Appealing directly to a physician is often the most effective way to obtain an appointment. I use email in my practice, and when I hear from a patient directly, I always make sure to get them in to see me in a timely fashion.
See an Associate
Although your heart may be set on seeing your own physician, often this is impossible due to any number of reasons, including their already full schedule, your doctor being out of the office, etc. If you trust your physician, then seeing a surrogate should satisfy your immediate need. Many physicians have partners, nurse practitioners, or physician’s assistants who may be able to fill in when your doctor cannot see you. Accepting this appointment also lets your physician know that you have a real need to be seen. Often, you will be pleasantly surprised at your level of satisfaction.
Make an Unexpected Visit
Even if your physician does not accept walk-in appointments, you may find a sympathetic receptionist, medical assistant, or nurse who will discuss your situation with your doctor, who then might agree to see you. This is best done first thing in the morning, or alternatively right after lunch. But don’t be disappointed if this doesn’t work. After all, there are scheduled patients who may be in just as much need as you are.
When All Else Fails…
Last resort: exaggerate, beg, cry, and plead your case in a persistent fashion. This can work, if done politely.
If nothing works, however, do not let your illness go untreated. Although the emergency room is less than ideal, it is better than going without evaluation and treatment. Also, the emergency room doctor can contact your physician directly, which may expedite an appointment for follow-up treatment, if necessary.