Wait times in doctors’ offices across the country are getting longer as physicians take on more patients, but that doesn’t mean you have to dedicate an entire morning for an appointment.
The average time a person spends in a doctor’s waiting room was 21 minutes last year, an increase of 6% in 2012, according to Vitals.com. The time you spend sitting depends on where you live and the type of doctor you are seeing—some patients can expect wait times of an hour or more.
But there are strategies that can shave down the time you spend in the waiting room, according to experts.
“Being demanding, rude or threatening with the appointment scheduler doesn't work,” says Dr. Archelle Georgiou, strategic advisor at Healthgrades.com, a website that rates doctors and health-care professionals. “Being flexible, friendly and offering some humor is much more likely to get you a quicker appointment.”
There are several websites that rank offices’ atmospheres, including wait times, which can help identify doctors that stick to schedules.
Punctuality is fundamental to reducing your wait time, experts say, and every minute counts. “If you arrive even a few minutes late, most physicians will move onto the next patient, who arrived on time,” says Dr. Kevin Pho, an internal medicine physician and co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation. “You may be seen later if there is availability, but only after waiting.”
The time and day of your visit can also impact how long you wait, according to Mitch Rothschild, chief executive of Vitals.com. The earlier the appointment, the less likely you are to wait. As the day continues, doctors’ schedules get filled up with unplanned visits or emergencies that tend to take longer than expected. If you are one of the first appointments, you are more likely to avoid these unplanned occurrences.
If your doctor has a habit of running late, Pho recommends calling before your appointment to see if there is a significant delay. He also says to check with the staff every 15 minutes while you are waiting to ensure they haven’t forgotten about you. “Some physicians take lots of time with patients, but perpetually run late. Others offer more brief visits, but are on time. Make sure to choose a physician with a style that suits your personality and preferences.”
If you have serious symptoms that need to be addressed quickly, Georgiou says to be very specific about your symptoms when trying to get an appointment instead of telling the office receptionist “I’m sick and need to see the doctor.” She recommends knowing your temperature, the location of pain and details about your symptoms. “In most offices, office staff is trained to listen for urgent issues and will frequently squeeze you in if they hear symptoms that reflect a serious situation.”
New patients tend not to be a scheduling priority, and Georgiou recommends asking to be put on the waiting list for any cancellations. It’s also a good idea to check in periodically to see if the schedule changed and you can get in sooner.
“Just because there isn't a near-term appointment when you call one day, doesn't mean that an open slot doesn't open up the next day,” Georgiou says.