Tips to make your appointment as fast and efficient as possible

We all hate it when the cable company tells us that the technician will be at our house sometime between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Fantastic! Going to the pediatrician’s office can be the same way.

Your appointment may be at 9 a.m. but you may not get out of the office until noon. Unfortunately, this is the nature of running a medical practice. What should take ten minutes for one reason or another may take 30 minutes. Once the doctor is 20 minutes behind schedule, every patient will likely have to wait an additional 20 minutes for the rest of that day.

Here are some tips to make your appointment as fast and efficient as possible.

  • Ask for the first appointment in the morning or the first appointment after lunch. If there are no patients before your appointment, the doctor is less likely to be running behind.  If you ask for the 4:30 p.m. appointment, understand that there are probably 10-15 patients the doctor has to see before she gets to you.  Each one of these patient encounters provides the opportunity for the physician to get further behind schedule.
  • Ask about paperwork. Inquire if there is any paperwork that may be required at the visit.  Most offices can fax or email these to you before your appointment.  Many offices have a website where forms can be downloaded.  You can then complete the paperwork before your appointment in the quiet of your own home and not in a waiting room full of screaming kids.
  • Schedule yearly check-ups in the Summer. Due to the seasonality of childhood illnesses, most pediatric practices are less busy in the Summer.  Less busy means less waiting time.
  • Write down your questions before the appointment. This allows you to efficiently inquire about your concerns.  This will not only get you through the office quicker, but will probably help the doctor stay on schedule.  Consider it an altruistic gesture for the parents who have appointments after yours.  Very noble, indeed.
  • Pay your co-pay and schedule your follow-up appointment while in the waiting room. You can save time at checkout by doing these things instead of watching Saving Nemo for the 23rd time.

Michael Gonzalez is a pediatrician who blogs at The Anxious Parent.

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  • stargirl65

    1. Don’t make the appointment for one reason and then give a different reason when you are in the exam room with the doctor. They may not have the time to properly evaluate the problem. Equipment needed to evaluate the problem may not be available. Testing may have been done before the doctor comes in and it saves both of you a lot of time. (Example: possible bladder infection-urine can be ready when doctor comes in. Otherwise she leaves and goes to next patient while you leave urine. Then you have to wait until she is done to be seen again.)

    2. Bring medicine bottles/boxes/whatever to the appointment. Lists of medicines are often incomplete or wrong. (Patients often miss the second medicine in a combination pill.)

    3. If forms are to be completed at the visit then present them at check in so nurses and others can start to fill them out and complete items on the form (eye checks etc). Do not surprise the doctor at the end. And don’t expect the office to have your work form/school form/MVA form. It is your job to provide the form. Also don’t be surprised if there is an extra charge for the form unless the form was the entire reason for the visit. The forms take extra time over what is paid for by your insurance company.

    4. Have your insurance card with you and ready to present. Make sure your primary care doctor’s name is in the card if it is an HMO. Make sure that is the doctor (or his partner) you are seeing (if seeing a primary care doctor). If your card has not arrived then get your insurance information before the appointment. It is not the doctor’s office’s job to “figure out” what kind of insurance you have. Also it is not their job to know all your benefits. It is not their job to know your medicine formulary either. There are hundreds of each of these for each doctor to keep track of. You only have one.

    • family practitioner

      Well said Stargirl!

      1. If you are a family member or friend accompanying the patient, do not “steal the spotlight” by asking questions about yourself.

      2. Similarly, don’t ask to have your other child checked out.

      3. Either don’t talk on the cell phone at all (a policy many doctors have-not me) or hang up as soon as the doctor comes in.

      4. Don’t text during appointments

    • gzuckier

      Ah yes, the infamous “doorknob question”.

  • Karen S.

    Thanks for these tips. We all want our limited time with doctors to be as satisfying as possible. Toward that end, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation created the “Gold Guidelines” for making the most of your time with your doctor, and perhaps they can serve as a supplement to the tips provided here. Find them at And let me know if you think they’re useful! We’re always looking to improve the information we make available to patients.

  • solo dr

    A few ways for docs to stay on time. Don’t come over from the hosital and start at 10:30, with 3-4 rooms of waiting patients that were scheduled at 10, 10:10, 10:20, and 10:30. Start earlier to end on time. Don’t let the drug reps interrupt your schedule with presentations. 20, 2-3 minute sample talks is almost an hour of wasted time. Don’t take 90 minutes for lunch at drug rep provide lunch, and then, when already late from the morning with the chance to cut lunch short and start the afternoon on time, sit there talking to drug reps until 1:30, when you schedule starts at 1 PM. When I was a resident and med student, greater than half the docs did not start or end anywhere close to on time, making patients unhappy and having to rush through visits. I see minimal to no reps in my office found that I save at least 2 hours a day. Starting on time usually means that I end the day on time. 1-2 hour waits past appointment times is inappropriate in almost any practice.

  • Lorri

    Having been uninsured for about 15 years (price went up, income didn’t match), I’ve discovered that the doctors who take my cash payments for the occasional visit (ear infection, ankle injury) seem to be offended if I bring up any other problem. I’ve even had a receptionist tell me that the doctor would limit himself to one problem per visit. This is frustrating to someone like me who has had absolutely no ongoing medical care over the years and would like to discuss a few — as yet — minor issues that could possibly be problems within a few years. What would you doctors suggest? Do I need to come up with $120 (the going rate for an office visit in my part of L.A.) for each body part I would like to discuss, or just wait until it all falls apart and check myself into the local low-income hospital to die and let the taxpayers eat the expense? Also, why is it that doctors have to book so many patients that the time is so awfully limited? I visited a doctor once (actually, I walked out and found someone else after two and a half hours of waiting – *with* an advance appointment) who was seeing 45 patients a day. Is this really necessary? Are all doctors now working for corporations who demand a certain quota, and ya’ll can’t stand up to them and say no? Sorry if my tone is a little angry or sarcastic, but before you start demanding all this perfect behavior from your patients, how about giving a little genuine concern for their well being in exchange?

    • stevew eaver

      Hello? Half of my income goes to pay my staff, my malpractice insurance, rent, etc. That’s why we have to see so many patients. As a surgeon, if you don’t see new patients, you don’t have any surgeries to do. There you go.

  • John

    I am with you on the fact that docs have for years taken advantage of patients where time in scheduling is concered. They schedule the patients ao tightly, want them to fill forms out ahead of time foe the MD convience, and then when the patient finally sees the “specialist” it’s generally for 10 mins or less after waiting in a little exam room for 15 mins to even an hour. You may or may not get eye contact, and depending on their ability with dealing with people they (MD) may even be rude. Then their bill comes for ungodly amounts of money they have billed your insurance for that 10 mins they spent basically ordering referrals for you to pay for. Rarely does the Amwrican consumer of healthcare get any straight answers quickly but rather just more permission slips to see more MDs without answers. Something definetly needs to be done to change this screwed up system that requires MD to see so many patients and drown themselves in documentation. Something also needs to be done to make costs transparent to the customer regardless of what your having done. If it could be that easy – then patients could say yes I will do that or no I won’t I just can’t afford it we will have to find another option. That would cause the MD to have to critically think again and actually provide medical care rather than just referrals and expensive medications pushed by pharmaceuticals.

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