April 22, 2012 at 1:34 PM ET
By Karen Springen
When you need to see a doctor, you want an appointment a.s.a.p. Trouble is, your idea of "possible" is usually very different than the doc's idea: Nationwide the average American waits 21 days for an appointment, according to a report by Merritt Hawkins & Associates. Here's how to see your doctor sooner.
Book online. Typically 10 to 20 percent of patients cancel their appointments. To snag these last-minute open slots, try booking through (www.zocdoc.com), a free website and app that lists physicians by specialty in 15 big cities and gives patient reviews. ZocDoc CEO Cyrus Massoumi was inspired to start the company with neurologist Oliver Kharraz, M.D., after he ruptured his eardrum on a flight and couldn't find a doctor for 4 days.
Call during slow times. Typically phones are busiest when offices open and around noon, says Kharraz. Try mid-morning and mid-afternoon instead. (Click here to learn The Best Times to Buy Anything.) Try the newest doctor in a big group. "It depends on whether you really want to see a specific doctor or just want to be seen by anyone," says Kharraz. "If the latter is the case, you have a better chance with a doctor who just recently joined the group and may not be fully utilized yet."
Ask to be on a wait list. Not all doctors keep one, but it's worth a shot. "It's an overhead question on the doctor's end to maintain that," says Kharraz.
Be nice to nurses and receptionists. "Whenever you go into your doctor's office, talk to the receptionist. Talk to the nurses so you know everyone like that, so you have not just someone on the inside but everyone on the inside," says Perry Sexton, M.D., a family doctor in Encinitas, California. Then when you call, everyone knows who you are, and also remembers your health issues. If your doctor instantly remembers that you're a regular with a sore throat, he knows he can quickly take care of you. Find out more ways to score an earlier doctor's appointment by making sure you're a high priority patient.
Don't fib and fake an emergency. "You're taking these spots away from other people who may be seriously sick," says Kharraz. "And once they realize your condition isn't as you described, you may be seen last of all patients."
Think about whether you really need to see an M.D. Often a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant will do the trick, says Ari Levy, M.D., an internist at the University of Chicago.
Find a new doctor. "If you feel like you have a doctor you can't get in to see if you really need to, that raises the question about are you seeing the right physician, " says Levy. "It is about access to care." (Dermatologists are especially hard to schedule an appointment with, for a handy guide that will help you determine whether your bump, blemish, or mole is the big C, check out the slideshow: What Skin Cancer Looks Like.)
What's the most outrageous wait you've had to get in to see a doctor? Tell us on Facebook.
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