Guest Post By Tashfeen Ekram, MD
Patients often tell me it’s difficult to get a timely appointment with doctors, and even worse with specialists. When they try to book an appointment, they find 21+ day waits for the first available slot. Scheduling around work, the kids’ soccer practice, and other obligations in addition to limited available appointments makes it complicated to find a time to see your doctor.
What’s the difficulty?
The challenge of getting in to see your doctor starts with scheduling. Calls to book an appointment are often met with quick response from an overworked front office staff. How familiar does this greeting sound: “Doctor Smith’s office, please hold.”
Do you live in Philadelphia? Average wait time is 20.6 days across 5 specialties. What about Denver? 23.6 days. And if you live in Boston, you can expect an average 45.5 day wait.
These long wait times are always what puzzle me. Every day there is unexpected downtime in doctors’ schedules. In fact, healthcare providers experience up to 30% late cancellations or no shows that leave holes in their daily schedules. Here are some tips to get an earlier appointment with those hard-to-see-doctor:
Tip 1: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Call early in the morning. Try to catch the front desk staff before they have become overloaded with arriving patients, tasks from the doctor, and laborsome insurance requests.
Tip 2: Follow Up on Waitlist Requests
Clinic staff members are busy. Many practices still run waitlists with sticky notes on a computer screen in the front office. If your doctor doesn’t use an effective waitlist, you have to take things into your own hands. Call back to check in on any available appointments.
Tip 3: Be Persistent
People’s schedules change frequently and waitlists are only useful if the staff have time to reach out to multiple people to fill the appointment. Progressive practices have automated systems to do this, but if your doctor doesn’t have a system in place, things inevitably fall through the cracks. Even if they say you are on the waitlist, call various times throughout the day to catch the first available appointment.
Tip 4: Book Future Appointments
If you need multiple appointments with a physician, such as a physical therapist or psychiatrist, book all your appointments at once. You can always change your schedule or cancel your appointment if a conflict arises, but it’s difficult to change theirs.
Tip 5: Take the Scenic Route
A dermatologist friend told me the average wait time in her area (Staten Island) was over 30 days. Yet, in Lower Manhattan, just a 15 minute ferry ride away, patients were seen within two days. Consider all your options: if your neighborhood physician is booked, a 15 minute drive could save you three weeks of waiting.
Tip 6: Your Referrals Means You Have Options
Your referral is a ticket to a new doctor… or perhaps another new doctor. Your insurance authorization provides you access to a service, not to a specific doctor. Depending on your needs, another physician could be the speedier option. I had a patient who was referred to a radiology center in the San Francisco Bay Area where there was a two week wait. She reached out to us and we got her in the following day, with everything covered the same on her insurance.
This list can be hard to manage and very time consuming. The stress my patients had around appointments was the reason I co-founded Luma Health. We provide reminders, one-click rescheduling options, and automated waitlists that ensure you are never stuck waiting for an appointment again. We help patients get in and get on the road to recovery quicker.
If you think your doctor’s office could benefit their patients with our services, let them know about us! We’ll send you a $100 Amazon gift card for your referral.
Hopefully these tips will help you get in to see your doctor faster and on the path to healing more quickly!
Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is a radiologist, self-taught coder, healthcare innovator and Co-Founder of Luma Health. Contact him on Twitter at @tashfeenekramMD.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Healthcare, Inc. and HealthCare.com.
Note: Referral form must be filled out by you prior to your doctor’s sign up. Referral gifts only for new, paid accounts in place for a minimum of 3 months.