Get to know the gatekeepers of your health care

As Administrative Professionals Day approaches, we’re taking a moment to applaud some unsung health-care heroes: the people who work in your doctor’s office. As the gatekeepers of your health-care experience, they support patients and doctors at every level: they organize schedules for physicians, triage appointments, communicate test results and handle billing ­– and they’ve been doing it all the way through the pandemic.

Here’s how (and why) to ensure you have a great relationship with the staff at your doctor’s office.

Be courteous
It seems so basic that it shouldn’t even need to be mentioned, but manners matter! The staff at your doctor’s office answer dozens – if not hundreds – of phone calls a day, and you don’t want to be the patient they remember for being grumpy or rude. Being cheerful and polite might not help you get that appointment faster, but building a good relationship has never hurt anyone. Good manners and a bit of small talk make everyone’s day a little easier.

Be clear
When you call to book an appointment, be clear about the reason for your request. Physicians need different amounts of time for different appointments – a flu shot is quick, but a well-baby appointment takes longer. And with COVID-19 and virtual care in the mix, it might be possible to schedule you for a phone appointment, saving you a trip to the office entirely. Sharing the reason for your call with the office admin means that they can schedule your appointment appropriately, so that you get the time and venue you need, and the patients who are scheduled after you aren’t kept waiting unnecessarily.

Be prompt
Speaking of waiting – if you have an in-person appointment scheduled, be sure to show up on time! COVID-19 protocols might mean that in-person appointments have been staggered so that there are fewer people in the waiting room, and if you’re late, it could cause a back-up that makes social distancing impossible. If you have been unavoidably detained, call and let the receptionist know – they might be able to juggle your physician’s schedule to help keep things moving.

Be flexible
Of course, it’s not always possible to escape the wait for a doctor’s appointment. If your physician provides obstetrical care, there’s every possibility that your appointment could be delayed because she’s out of the office delivering a baby. If you are the one with a baby (or a rambunctious toddler), or if you can only take a bit of time off work for the appointment, feel free to call ahead. The admin staff can probably gauge how long the wait will be, so that you can leave later and reduce your time in the waiting room.

Flexibility can also work in your favour if you had to schedule your appointment a few weeks out. If you have some give in your daily schedule and the ability to get to the office quickly, ask about being put on a cancellation list – you might get to see your doctor sooner. In addition, explore all the options for managing your bookings – if it’s hard to get through on the phone, see if your physician offers an online portal for making appointments. That is quick and easy and can be done at any time of day or night.

Be realistic
While it’s true that your doctor’s administrative staff help you access care, be realistic about what they can and can’t do. They can’t completely rearrange schedules, make diagnoses, renew prescriptions or reveal test results without the doctor’s authorization. But they can work with you to help ensure you get the care you need.

Do you need a family doctor? If you haven’t already done so, make sure that your name is on the Need a Family Practice Registry.

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