Testing why it takes so long to make an appointment with cancer specialists

    When you’re sick, booking an appointment with a specialist can be a frustrating–and some say–unnecessarily–complicated process.

    A University of Pennsylvania study put hospitals to the test.

    Research assistants posed as patients just-diagnosed with liver cancer and called for an appointment with a cancer specialist.

    Oncologist Keerthi Gogineni led the study. She says callers made at least three attempts.

    “Quite a bit of the time you’re in this infinite phone tree and being asked to leave messages or being transferred to multiple people and I think all of that made it difficult to get through to a live person,” Gogineni said.

    Callers reached a scheduler about 80 percent of the time, but after connecting they booked appointments just 29 percent of the time.

    Many hospitals ask patients to have their records transferred before they’ll schedule an appointment. Others require a referral.

    Those requirements make face-to-face medical visits more productive, but Gogineni says she wishes more hospitals helped patients navigate the system and gather the information they’ll need.

    Her advice to patients: “If you see a doctor, see if they will send you a note about the visit. If you get blood work done, get the results, hold on to them. It’s much easier for you to be able to provide someone else your records in a timely fashion rather than relying on other places to send those records in,” Gogineni said.

    Penn’s Institutional Review Board scrutinized the study design before allowing researchers to pose as patients.

    Gogineni says each appointment was cancelled with 24 hours.

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