Making Appointments

We have all been there.  You call a doctor’s office to set up a time to see him and you are told the next available appointment is three months from now.  Getting your car fixed can be easier.

Making an appointment and talking with the staff at a doctor’s office (often called the front office), can be one of the hardest parts of getting care.  It is not uncommon to have trouble getting in to see the doctor. This can keep a patient or caregiver from being able to use or access the system. This is also the time to find out everything you can about what you need to do to get ready for a visit, if you need to bring anything special, what the best time to schedule an appointment is, and what the office’s payment policy is.

  • Be ready.  Have a pen and paper, your date book, insurance info and whatever other paperwork you need in front of you when you call the office
  • Give your name and birth date, and the reason for your call
  • Get an appointment that works for you.  Let the office know if another doctor told you to call, or if it is urgent.  If you can’t get an appointment when you need or want it, ask if there is a cancellation list you can be put on.  If the office staff says they can not give you a date that you would like, ask to speak with the doctor.  Be polite, but firm, and keep at it.  If you need to and you can, find another doctor to go to.  By the way, as a general rule, the earlier the appointment, the shorter the wait
  • Let the front office know if you will need extra time to talk during the visit, especially if you know you will be talking about a complex treatment plan or options. This way extra time can be worked into the doctor’s schedule.  Also explain if you will have any time pressures such as needing to get to work or pick up a child from daycare, etc., by a certain time
  • Talk About Costs and Insurance. The front office will most likely ask you about insurance.  Make sure you understand what your insurance covers.  Speak up if costs are a problem.  Many offices will work out a payment plan with you or ask you to speak with the doctor to come up with a plan.  (We talk more about this in the Talking with Your Doctor section.)  Also, find out what the office policy is for canceling an appointment, if there are any cancellation fees and how much time you need to give them so that there won’t be a fee
  • Confirm appointments at least one day ahead of time
  • Ask about special instructions (such as fasting) or if there’s anything you need to bring (like an X-ray)
  • Explain if you have special needs or limits (such as needing wheelchair access)
  • Call the day of your appointment to find out if the doctor is running on time.  The front office might be able to tell you to come in a little later
Bonus Tip: Call after hours.  There are times when the office will not give us an appointment when we need or want it.   Sometimes talking to the doctor directly can help.  If you are in this situation, call the doctor’s office after hours and leave a message with the doctor’s answering service.  Explain that you would like to talk with the doctor. Make it clear that the front office was unable to give you an appointment and that you need the doctor to step in and intervene.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But it’s worth a try.  If it is an emergency call 911.