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What Your Doctor Is Really Thinking

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How can you get the appointment time you want? Can you see a nurse instead of a doctor? Do you need to wax before you go? We tell you what you need to know before you visit your doctor.

Get the Most out of Your Next Checkup

Want to know the scoop on getting the most out of your medical checkups? FITNESS asked top MDs for tips on how to save time, money, and your health.

Q. What can I do to get an appointment quickly -- and be seen on time once I'm there?

A. Fully describe the severity of your symptoms when you make an appointment, says Marie Savard, MD, a Philadelphia-based general practitioner. "For example, if you say 'I have a bad cold' or 'I have poison ivy,' that won't speed things up." (And, honestly, it shouldn't.) But if you have a pressing situation -- you felt like your eardrums were going to rupture on the plane last weekend, or you have a rash that's inching closer to your eye -- say so. Try to snag the first appointment in the morning or the one right after lunch, when docs are least likely to be backed up, and if you're booking a well visit for your child, do your best to avoid August, when families return from vacation and pediatricians' offices are packed, says Jamie Roach, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Darien, Connecticut. P.S.: Though holiday gifts and sweet-talking are appreciated, they won't expedite your visit, says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, a general internist in Atlanta and a FITNESS advisory board member.

Q. Does skipping my appointment hurt my chances of getting seen quickly next time?

A. While most doctors say they won't blackball a patient for one ditched visit, receptionists do take note when a patient is a chronic canceler, says Dr. Savard. Try not to miss appointments without advance notice, and think twice before rescheduling -- it may affect your ability to be seen stat when booking a follow-up exam.

Q. How much of doctors' time is taken up by insurance red tape -- and how is my healthcare affected?

A. Our experts agree that insurance companies can make even basic coverage requests a hassle. For every four-hour block of appointments, Alice Chuang, MD, a North Carolina-based ob-gyn, spends about an hour filling out forms that require her evaluation. Dr. Roach says she's been asked to write three-page explanations when simply referring a patient to another physician. "I'm frequently on the phone with an insurer asking why they won't approve something for a patient," she adds. While doctors we spoke to say they do their best to take care of these matters before or after patient hours, some insurance negotiations can cut into office time -- something to consider when you're steaming over a 10-minute delay.

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