Monday, June 20, 2011

Question of the Week: How Do You Contact Your Doctor Between Office Visits?

The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)Image via Wikipedia
Sunday night I needed to contact my doctor because I starting having the symptoms of that bane of female existence, the urinary tract infection (UTI.)

Which got me think about all of my doctors and the different procedures I've needed to learn in order to contact them between office visits...

Don't Bug Me

Um, yeah, can you believe it? Over the years I have actually been seen by some doctors who insist you come into the office to see them and won't have contact with you any other way. I've discovered this the hard way, when I called their office asking to leave a message, only to be told by the staff that I need to schedule an appointment to ask my question.

In my experience, these doctors have generally been specialists that embrace this philosophy: "Your primary care doctor should implement my recommendations to the letter, so there should be no reason for you to bother me after hours or between appointments."

None of these doctors have remained on my healthcare team for very long.

Talk To My Assistant

Then there are doctors who put their staff between them and you. Or they have staff that feel they must protect their boss, so they create a buffer zone around them. Either way, you have to deal with the receptionist, medical assistant or nurse practitioner if you need anything.

I guess this works if the doctor's staff is top-notch, diligent and organized. Unfortunately this isn't always the case. Let's face it, some of the people working in doctors' offices really have no business being there. I've had these situations go horribly sideways when I have needed to be persistent, even pushy, with staff members to get what I need.

It's definitely a hassle, but if the doctor is really good, I have been known to put up with some mistreatment by their staff just to keep the doctor on my team.

Call Me

It is rare to actually be given a doctor's direct telephone number where you can leave a voice message that is going to be listened to by them. And yet somehow I have lucked out big time with a gynecologist who does just that. She almost always returns my called within 24 hours. Sometimes she actually answers the phone when I call! Plus she is always pleasant and never sounds annoyed or upset when she returns my calls.

This one is a keeper.

Page Me

I really try not to page a doctor: really , honestly and truthfully. But I am a sick chick and sometimes I really need to get a hold of the doctor, stat. In the past, this has been a real mixed bag when it comes to the results. For a while there, I would only get a call back if I paged and then jumped into the shower--don't ask me why!

I have to say that I work super-duper hard not to be in this situation and try to take whatever response I get, even the absence of a call back, in stride. Which means I need to accept that I might have to use Plan B, like going to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care, if a page to the doctor doesn't circumvent it.

Send Me An Email

I think my favorite way to talk to my doctor between office visits is email.

But this is definitely different than sending an email to a friend or family member. An email to a doctor has to be specifically tailored to them. That means crafting a message that is short, sweet and to the point. It also means putting my full name in the subject line and my medical record number in my signature.

Then, when I hit send, I have to stick around and make sure I don't get a dreaded "out of office" reply. Because if I do, I need to move on to Plan B (see above.)

I'm happy to report that this time, I used email to contact my primary care doctor and I got a quick and helpful response. What helped too was going to the pharmacy and getting a home UTI detection kit and sharing those results with my doctor via email. She used the number I gave her in my email for my pharmacy and called in a prescription within two hours.

Now that is an amazing response time.

So how do you prefer to contact your doctor between office visits? What contact options have your doctors given you? How well does this work for you?

I look forward to reading and responding to your comments here or over at the OMA&P! Facebook Page.

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Kathy/FibroDAZE said...

I'm in Canada. Socialized medicine. It's kind of an unwritten "rule" that making an appointment for everything are the only form of communication. Otherwise, how else would the doctors be able to bill the respective provincial health care agencies for the patient consult? That's my take on it. I've rarely phoned my GP or any other health care professional I see. I always figure I'll never get past the gatekeeper anyways. I suppose I could leave a message w/ said gatekeeper but I've never tried to see if the doctor will call me back. I should try it sometime I guess.

I was shocked when my aunt -- who lives in the US -- said she contacts her doctors by phone to speak to them, not just the assistant/nurse to set up an appt.

Tam said...

My brand new Neuro (who specializes in MS, which I was recently diagnosed with) has an office that uses email and I could not be happier with it. I email her nurse, the nurse emails me, I don't feel as if I'm taking up the doctor's time with something less important but I do know her nurse will pass it on to her ASAP if need be. This is so much better than any other way I've had to contact a doctor.

Felicia Fibro said...

Luckily I've never had a doctor who makes me come in to hear from them. I've also never had one that wants me to page them or call them directly. Most of my experiences have been of the "talk to my nurse" variety. While I agree that sometimes those experiences aren't that great, I'm lucky to have had that work wonderfully overall.

I have only had a handful of doctors give me a direct email address to them, but they've pointed out that they don't get paid to do patient care through email and to use it rarely.

My FAVORITE type of contact is the doctors who have electronic care, where I can "email" in with questions, refill request, make appointments, see lab results, print my medication list and more.

That is wonderful how your PCP worked with you on getting you quick, reasonably priced care!