Seeing a Specialist? Here are Must-Do’s Before Your Appointment

Posted on: September 24th, 2010 by
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There comes the time when your general doctor refers you to a specialist. Even if the specialist is stellar, you need to make sure you have all your administrative ducks in a row so your appointment can go smoothly, hopefully without surprises.

Do call the specialist’s office as soon as possible to make an appointment. And when you are on the phone, verify that the specialist is, indeed, the type of doctor you need to see. It sounds like a no-brainer, but just recently, I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon for a stress fracture. The problem was, he wasn’t an orthopedic surgeon. Had I not asked the crucial question, “This doctor is an orthopedic surgeon, right?” I would’ve wasted an appointment seeing a specialist I wasn’t supposed to see.

If you have an HMO, do make sure you have a written and/or electronic referral ahead of your appointment date. Do call the general physician’s office and the specialist’s office to ensure the referral went through. I once spent a frantic hour on the phone with my general doctor’s office because they forgot to write the referral, and I hadn’t followed up with them before the appointment. I did get in to see the specialist, but only after an agonizing experience on the phone with my doctor’s administrators.

If the specialist will be evaluating X-rays, labs, etc., make sure the test results are at his/her office before your appointment. I can’t tell you how many times my mammogram results and films that were supposed to be delivered to my surgeon for my followup appointments were not delivered. It made for a weird experience, having a surgeon without the most updated records and him having to wait a few days after our appointment for them to arrive and then have to call me with the results. As a patient who had had breast cancer, these were a heart-wrenching few days. Luckily, with electronic results, doctors can hopefully access labs online immediately. According to the specialist’s office, the doctor I will be seeing on Monday can access my X-rays online. This should take the stress out of ensuring they are physically delivered.

On the other hand, if there’s a snafu, nobody in that office will be happy. I’ll see to that.

Don’t be complacent, passive, or scared to speak up. Make all your arrangements before your appointment to increase the odds of your exam going smoothly.

Have you ever had a bad experience with the administrative side of seeing a specialist? Do you have any advice to share with readers? Please share your nightmare stories and/or advice. (If they are medical mishaps, they are guaranteed to be nightmares.)

This posting is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. To obtain these excerpts regularly, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at and Photobucket

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