Not too long ago, I was concerned about what I thought was a suspicious lesion on my back, so I called my dermatologist’s office for an appointment. The receptionist told me that the earliest available appointment was two months away. Before I hung up, though, I got scheduled for an appointment just two days away! Below, I’ll tell you how I did it.

But first, let me explain what’s happening all over the country. Over the past few years, more and more patients have been complaining about how long it takes to get appointments with their doctors—even doctors they have been seeing for years. While the problem tends to occur more often with specialists, who are harder to come by than primary care doctors in some locales, the declining number of primary care doctors is creating a backlog for some practices, too. But with the help of the following secrets, you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting a medical appointment sooner. What works best… 

• Talk to the right person. The receptionist answering the phone at a medical practice usually has little discretion over scheduling. She’ll book you into an opening on the calendar, often weeks or months away. If you need a quicker appointment, ask to speak to the nurse who works with your doctor. That’s what I did to get my appointment with the dermatologist so much quicker. Even if you have never been to the practice before, this usually works. Insider secret: Don’t cry wolf. When you talk to the nurse, give a legitimate medical reason (such as a recurrence of a previously treated condition) for the expedited appointment.

• Do not ask about a “waiting list.” If you can’t get through to the nurse, you’ll probably assume that you should ask to be put on a waiting list (so you’ll be called if there’s a cancellation). Don’t do that! Insider secret: Instead of mentioning a waiting list, ask the receptionist if you can be put on the “quick call” list. This is the term that most medical practices use when referring to the list for people who get priority appointments when a cancellation or opening occurs. Asking for the quick call list tells the receptionist that you are something of an insider, which will help you get priority status.

• Consider an urgent-care center. If you are having a nonemergency problem (such as flulike symptoms or pain due to a minor injury) but cannot get a timely appointment with your primary care doctor or a specialist, head to your nearest hospital-affiliated or freestanding urgent-care center or even one at your local drugstore or supermarket. These walk-in practices can quickly determine if you need to see a specialist (or need hospital care)…and, if needed, usually can get you a quick appointment with an affiliated specialist (sometimes on the same day). If you’re trying to see a specialist for an initial appointment, a call from your primary care doctor may help you get in sooner. Important: For serious problems, such as chest pains, high fever, breathing difficulties or burns, go to an emergency room!

• Get a new doctor. If one of your current doctors regularly makes you wait several weeks or longer for an appointment, don’t hesitate to find a new doctor. While he/she may be busy, your time is valuable too, and it’s reasonable to expect to be seen within a month for a routine appointment or within a few days for a special need.