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Need a Medical Specialist? Here's How to Get an Appointment

Posted Oct 05 2010 3:06pm

You've developed a mild aching sensation in your chest that seems to get worse when you walk the dog in the mornings. You call a local cardiologist and find out that the next new patient appointment is six weeks away. You don't want to go to an emergency room, but you're not sure how serious the situation is and want input from a physician—a specialist—with knowledge in the area of your problem.


You're not alone. Anyone who has needed the help of a physician specialist recently has likely encountered the difficulty of getting timely help in an increasingly crowded health care system. Even in adequately served areas there can be long waits to get appointments, often with complicated referral procedures necessary. Here are a few tips to aid you in getting the most out of a specialist visit in a timely manner.

Get a primary care doctor. Now more than ever it pays to have one. A good primary physician is increasingly essential to receiving good medical care, including timely access to specialists. A primary physician can assess your situation, help decide what specialist is best, and judge how urgent your situation really is.

He can also just as importantly personally contact specialists to let them know the potential seriousness of your problem and assist in making an appointment for you. Many physicians and some insurance companies even require such a referral from a primary doctor. Forwarding important information such as lab tests and x-rays from your physician can greatly increase the efficiency with which necessary procedures and additional tests can be planned.

Check in with your specialist. Once you have an appointment, call your specialist's office prior to the date to check with his nurse or assistant. Be sure they have received all the information necessary to help with your problem. Making sure they have access to all necessary information can speed the process of getting prompt diagnosis and treatment, avoiding unnecessary additional appointments or delays.

Do your homework. Make sure you're ready for your visit with the details of your medical history. (Find out what five things your doctor needs to know during your appointment .)

Make sure everyone's talking. Request that your specialist's opinions and plans be communicated back to your primary doctor. This will ensure that the new recommendations are put into the context of your overall medical condition and that these thoughts are available for your other physicians as well.

Remember, even in this day of increasing technology and medical records innovations, simple communication among your doctors can be one of the most important ingredients in the best care.

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