Handling Frequent Doctors’ Appointments

How to Handle Frequent Doctors' Appointments | CorporetteWhen you have to take time off work for frequent doctors’ appointments, how can you schedule them to minimize the effect on your workday?  What are the best ways to explain your absences to your boss, secretary, and other coworkers?  Reader L wonders:

I was wondering what the proper etiquette is to deter nosy coworkers when you are frequently in and out of the office for medical attention.  While my team superior is aware of the procedures I need done so I can request time out, the other people that I work with daily are extremely nosy and ask questions as if they were trying to diagnose me.  One even asked about my bathroom habits!  As a young professional, how do I communicate to people I work with and under to explain frequent absences without compromising some privacy?  Telling them I was out for a procedure or just not feeling well is apparently too vague and spurs intrusive follow-up questions.  I understand that they are genuinely concerned, but I want to keep my health problems private except for HR and my boss.

Meanwhile, a second reader, S, is stressed about how her high-risk first-trimester pregnancy is affecting her job. Due to a subchorionic hemorrhage, she’s limited in her activities at home and at work, and she was nearly hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness). She hasn’t yet announced to her coworkers that she’s pregnant.

Great questions, Readers L and S.  I think that any time you’re getting into the realm of health-related issues (whether pregnancy or other things), it’s in your best interest to keep things on the DL — coworkers just don’t need to know until there’s Something to Know.  We’ve talked about how to deal with a miscarriage at work, as well as how to deal with a potentially embarrassing illness — but we haven’t talked about this directly.  These are a few tips that I can think of, but I’m curious to hear what readers say:

a) Try to make your appointments either the FIRST of the day or the LAST of the day.  Doctors tend to be running on time then, so you’re more likely to get in and out quickly.

b) If you can, find a doctor close to the office.  Sometimes this isn’t possible.  When I damaged my eyes I had to go to a specific cornea specialist for frequent checkups and I needed to plan travel time as well as appointment time.  On the other hand, if it’s your first trimester of pregnancy and you seem to be having a troubled trimester, don’t worry about picking your “ideal birthing hospital” or OB/GYN with the best bedside manner, because you can always change that after you make it through the first trimester — just find someone close to work who you trust to make decisions about your health (e.g., when you need to be hospitalized).  Talk to your preferred doctor about why you may be looking for a doctor closer to work, and see if she points out any stumbling blocks to rejoining her practice later.

b) If you end up having to have repeated appointments, try to pick an “appointment day” out of each week.  For nosy coworkers, if you repeatedly come in late on Thursday mornings, they may just assume that you have a therapy appointment, a personal trainer appointment, or a standing breakfast date.  On your end of things, this may help in a number of different ways — you can better manage your personal energy (running to just one appointment at a time can be taxing) and you can also assemble a tote bag of work that can be done in a waiting room.  (As a self-employed person, I don’t have too much to worry about re: nosy coworkers, but early on in this pregnancy I realized that just going to one doctor’s appointment tended to kill the day for me in terms of energy.  So I’ve randomly picked Thursday afternoons as the time to go to various appointments (OB/GYN, sonograms, physical therapy, etc), and while it’s a huge chunk of time to commit, I end up having “better” time on the other days.)

c) If you’re hospitalized for a short stay, I think this is really up to you to decide who needs to know, and how much.  You could just say, “I’m too sick to come to work,” and leave it at that.  Some people (maybe you, and hey, maybe me too if I were hospitalized) will want the “sympathy” that will come from the drama! of! being! hospitalized!  But keep in mind that you give up the right to a bit of privacy then — coworkers have a right to know if you’re contagious, and just what they’re dealing with. (How likely is it that you’ll be going back to the hospital, and how many EXTRA hours of work will it mean for them if you can’t manage?)

d) Finally: figure out who you need to tell (boss, HR, your secretary), what you need to tell them, and who will be your ally vs. the office gossip.  A great secretary may cover for you if you’re out yet again because you have a doctor’s appointment, and make snap decisions about who needs to know where you are versus who only needs to know that you’re away from your phone right now.  A lousy secretary will gossip and tell everyone that you’re out again.  Sometimes, telling your secretary how you want things handled (“Please just tell people ‘X’ and email me the message immediately”) is a great way to avoid that kind of behavior.

Readers who’ve had many doctors’ appointments — what are your thoughts?  How have you managed?  What are your best tips for keeping Private Things private, particularly when it comes to health issues?

(Pictured: empty waiting room, originally uploaded to Flickr by Julep67.)


  1. Meg Murry :

    For me, the last appointment of the day usually meant waiting for 1+ hour in the waiting room, not caught up ever, so I wouldn’t recommend that. If you find something near your office, the first appointment after lunch always had the least wait time for me, and could be hidden by “taking a late lunch”.
    I also had a horrible experience with an OB where I scheduled my appointments for first thing in the morning (8 am) but because he was often out delivering babies until 2 am and lived pretty far from the office in an area known for snow he routinely wouldn’t even arrive at the office until 9 or 10 am, and then rush through my checkup in 10 minutes or less because he had a waiting room full of cranky, pregnant people. So my advice if you are stuck waiting for a long time is to ask others in the waiting room if this is common or a one-off.

    • +1 on the first appointment after lunch. I would also be very nice to the reception staff. They can usually tell you the best times for appointments or if certain days are better than others.

    • Spirograph :

      +1, last appointment of the day is the worst. I even have one doctor who schedules the last appointment at 4, leaving 2 hours before the office closes to be able to catch up. I’m suppressing the urge to go on a rant about insurance groups that force medical practices into overscheduling to meet quotas based on the asinine calculation that a doctor only needs 10-15 minutes per patient…

    • Coach Laura :

      After lunch is good. The last time I picked a 4:30 appointment with a surgeon, I didn’t get out of the office until 5:45. Some doctors (especially surgeons) don’t take lunches. A (male) surgeon friend’s lunch consists of a protein bar and a diet dr. pepper consumed while reviewing files or MRI films.

    • oil in houston :

      I always try to go appointments over lunch, much more discrete. Or otherwise very first thing in the morning as they are less likely to get late then

    • I have had a lot of success with the first appointment of the day. It’s often around 8 am, which is earlier than I would arrive at work anyway, and I can avoid the backups that are almost inevitable as the day progresses. I will have to try the first appointment after lunch trick for my doctors with lunch hours!

      I am not typically a big sharer of personal information at work, but after working across several office environments with a condition that sometimes requires frequent doctors appointments, I have generally found that explaining (briefly) why I need to be out is the best way to get people to respect my privacy in the long run. A little information usually sates people’s curiosity, whereas a vague statement ignites it. I usually pair this with a clear strategy for when I will be out and how I will be covered/make up the time.

    • Definitely ask the staff whether the physician tends to run on time. One thing I did was that I took the last appointment of the day, but worked out a deal so that the staff would update me mid afternoon as to how the day was going (she’s running 1 hour behind, etc) so that I could stay and work until closer to the time I was actually going to be seen. But that may have been a perk of being a physician.

  2. Wildkitten :

    One Medical Group lets you schedule appointments online and starts them on time. I’ve also found in DC that many places have early morning or weekend hours.

    • Second this. I can’t say enough good things about One Medical. I did hesitate to join them at first, due to their membership fee, but the amount of time they saved me was well worth it. You can schedule and cancel appointments through their app or online, and you can email directly with your doctor and their assistants—and they respond incredibly quickly. Recommended in the DC area.

    • I heartily third this rec for a primary care doc, but if she’s seeing a specialist, the hours are likely less flexible.

    • Totally agree re: One Medical. Now, if only they had OBs…

  3. Yes, this can be an issue. Haveing to go to doctor’s appointement’s waste’s alot of time, b/c the doctor does NOT respect your time. I remember when I was in college, my junior year room mate had a lot of issue’s b/c she was not to careful about sexueal issue’s. As a result, she went BACK and FORTH to the doctor’s, first for prescreption’s for IUD’s and pill’s, and then for STD’s and other thing’s. She also had to tell the doctor who she was haveing sex with b/c she had some pretty disgusteing stuff which I will NOT get into here. So peeople were alway’s asking about her, both to me as well as directley to her about what the probelem’s were that caused her to have to go back and forth, back and forth to multipel doctor’s. Even the guy’s she turned in all wanted to know who else she had been with b/c to them they wanted to figure out if they got it from one of the other guy’s or VISA VERSA. FOOEY b/c I would not have sex with any of the’se guys!

    So when you have peeople askeing what they should NOT be askeing, just say:

    “I’m sorry, but the information is subject to an EVIDENTIEARY privilege and I am NOT at libertey to disclose same….”

    Once you say this, you will not get into any issue’s. YAY!!!!!!

  4. While the focus here seems to be on limiting who to tell, it’s important to make sure that you *do* tell the people who need to know (both in order to cover your work and to make sure that your appointments and any recovery time off are needed). I had a good friend who was so private that she didn’t tell co-workers that her mother was having surgery for cancer; that meant that when she took time off as an unspecified personal day and a work emergency arose, people were calling her while she was at the hospital with her mom. I think that in all but the nuttiest workplaces, had folks known that a serious family medical issue was involved, they would have found a way to resolve the problem without her. Even telling a supervisor or sensible co-worker who could have influenced others not to call her would have helped.

  5. Ok these people are overly nosy and I’d tell them it’s a personal issue I don’t wish to share.

    How about when you’re in consulting and don’t have a lick of free time and you’re frequently at client sites and you want to interview for a new job so you say you have a “doctors appointment”

  6. LadyLawyer :

    I might be going out on a limb here, but how about just being direct and honest? “Thank you for your concern, but I prefer not to discuss these things,” “Yes, I see doctors, but don’t worry, I have everything under control,” and “Thank you for respecting my privacy” come to mind.

    I also have frequent doctor appointments and medical treatments, and I’ve found that people respect my privacy when I ask for it. I don’t want to explain my medical issues to co-workers, but it’s not always possible to schedule everything to avoid notice and I’m not going to lie if someone asks why I’m late to work. For me, the balance is to admit that I see doctors (which prevents the you-must-be-lazy response) but to refuse to answer questions as to why (which maintains my privacy because, I mean, people see doctors for everything from wrinkles to cancer). I think people generally ask these questions more out of concern than out of an attempt to invade. In the age of facebook, we just sometimes have to remind people that not everything is public information.

    • +1

    • I like this approach – I think sometimes people are thrown off guard when you give them no information at all but this seems like a good way of being straightforward without relinquishing your right to privacy.

    • I agree with this–some people feel like they just HAVE to know (whether genuine concern or office busybodies). They don’t. If you are vague, that’s fine. And if they persist, arch an eyebrow and say that you genuinely appreciate their concern, but this is something that you are sorting with your medical professionals, and you’ll let him/her know if your health matters need to shared more broadly.

      Also, for me, I have asthma (and everyone knows), so sometimes I can cover up one appointment by blaming another illness (e.g. don’t want to talk about my abnormal pap to my male colleage? NP–chalk it up as an asthma checkup). This is a white lie that works for me, since I go to a huge medical group where all my doctors are located in one place.

      I also cosign either first appt of the day (telling my sec to let anyone who’s urgently looking for me know that I will be in soon) or taking the first post-lunch appt.

      Also, this may sound counterintuitive, but if I am having a lot of appts, I try to go for broke and get EVERYTHING done in a clump, even if it means missing a lot of work…that way people are annoyed, but not for as long a time period. (And it’s their issue they’re annoyed anyway…my health has to come first sometimes!).

      • Gail the Goldfish :

        On the other hand, if you don’t want a male colleague to ever ask you about a medical appointment ever again, “It’s for a female thing” the first time they ask what it’s for probably takes care of that.

    • I agree. By taking the hard line (or so it may seem) you may also be doing a public service. Well-meaning people who really just needed a reminder that it’s not appropriate to ask about medical issues will realize they messed up and hopefully be more careful going forward . (While, yes, chronic busybodies won’t care and won’t change–but then you will have stood your ground with them as is necessary.)

    • I second this direct approach from personal experience.

    • Not Public Info :

      I completely agree with this. I have a chronic medical condition that causes me to range from very ill to perfectly fine. I have frequent appointments, and even see a specialist that is in a distant town, so my visits to him require more than an afternoon off. My bosses know what is going on, and I deflect everyone else. My illness is not a secret, but I have no need or desire to broadcast it either, especially with my co-workers and employees.

    • oil in houston :

      I find that this would not work in my office. I’ve been working with those people for years, and they would consider it very rude if I just said ‘ none of your business’ or something of that variation. I find that just saying ‘everything’s fine, just check ups’ works better

    • FinanceJenie :

      This is a great example of know your office environment/company policy.

      I work for a Fortune 500 company and it’s company policy that once ANYONE aware of an employee’s illness/prolonged medical care must report it to HR so it can be documented. Additionally employees are told not to acknowledge co-worker’s illnesses lest a disability claim is filled claiming the work enivronment/stress caused the illness.

      I’m not saying I remotely agree at all with the policy and what the company claims they are trying to prevent but make sure you’re not putting your co-workers at risk of disciplinary action by giving too much information.

      • This sounds like standard FMLA reporting – it protects both the employee and the employer when the employee has a serious health condition. You need to be an established employee before you are eligible for coverage, and the time away is buffered (I’m not going to say that it’s perfectly protected) HR also handles confidentiality.

        As for the rest of the crowd – they will only know if you disclose. If they are being intrusive, thank them for caring, and say you are taking care of yourself.

    • prof on a bike :

      This is the balance I aim for as well — I’ll disclose that I’m away for a medical appointment, but I absolutely won’t disclose the specifics of what that medical condition is. If/when people ask what’s wrong, which they almost always do, I just tell them that it’s an ongoing issue requiring regular follow ups (so they’re not surprised when an appointment pops up in my calendar again) but that my health issues are well managed (so there’s nothing to worry about). Once those two bits of information are in place I find most people are satisfied, and if someone is curious and wants more info than that, tough luck. As the OP suggests, sometimes people just have to be reminded that just because they’re curious doesn’t mean they have a right to know.

  7. coffeequeen :

    Schedule for the 1st appointment of the day if possible. If not, take a late lunch. My firm is pretty flexible when it comes to this type of thing. As for telling, just say you have an outside appointment and leave at that. Most people will think a) you are meeting clients or b) you have a doctor’s appointment. If the want more details, tell them that you have your health under control and prefer not to talk to about it.

  8. Diana Barry :

    The last appointment of the day never went well for me – it was always really late. First after lunch or first thing in the morning usually worked.

    Also, I did tell work when I was hospitalized, because I went there from work and had all my stuff in the office, and so my co-workers stopped by the hospital the next day to give it to me and visit. (I was able to be fully dressed or would have stopped them from visiting.)

  9. Ebonie T. :

    First, I’d like to say that I LOVE how Corporette covers EVERYTHING for the working woman. Secondly my heart goes out to both readers. I, too, suffer from hyperemesis and as if that isn’t hard enough, my pregnancy has also been categorized high risk. I see a specialist every 2 weeks and then my regular OBGYN once a month. Fortunately, my boss has been very supportive in my pregnancy. My coworkers are very respectable of privacy as well, so I’m very happy not to have to cope with the issue of nosy coworkers.

    As far as time, I use hours out of my vacation/sick/personal days. For instance, I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and will only work 4 hours out of my scheduled 8. I’ll just use 4 hours of vacation time to compensate for my remaining time. Some weeks I’ll make the hours up, but it’s rare that I feel well enough to work more than 8 hours.

    • Lily student :

      Why do you have to use holiday days to cover a medical issue?! People in the states get few enough already.

      • Not sure about OP’s work, but it sounds the same, only time medical gets drawn from its own bank is when it’s extended sick leave. Otherwise, we have one bank that gets hours very quickly.

  10. MustLoveCats :

    I normally schedule appointment around lunch time. If it is not the super busy week, it is generally considered okay to be out at lunch for a bit longer time. I normally get back within 1.5 hrs as I try to have my doctors nearby.

  11. I would lean towards disclosure more than the average person. In my experience, keeping things quiet never ever worked. People were such busybodies that they would figure it out anyway. For example, the time I totaled my car. I said nothing except to notify building security of the license plate of my rental car. 45 minutes later, the head partner rushed to my office wanting to know what happened to my car and why I was driving a rental. Same scenario with a kidney infection that nearly required hospitalization. My current office is very small and there is no possible way to keep a secret.

    I would disclose the high level: I have a temporary medical condition with my digestive track that requires regular appointments. My mother is going through a serious medical condition and I need to be with her.

    When I do give some level of detail, people are much more understanding and naturally want to help. Some of it is not helpful (holistic cures) but some is (tips for negotiating my next car purchase).

    • One last thing: I have only ever questioned the bathroom habits of one coworker over years of hearing questionable noises coming from other stalls. This coworker left evidence of her condition upon leaving the stall by not confirming that everything flushed and by not wiping up after what had happened. The office only had three stalls and 8 women.

      Tl;Dr: if your medical condition affects your bathroom habits, remove all evidence before leaving the stall.

      • you actually asked the coworker? how did that convo go? “hey so I saw not all of your vomit flushed, how’s that bulimia going?”

        • After we all repeatedly reported that the bathroom needed service, the office manager was dispatched to remind all the women of basic bathroom ettitquette. My conversations with her were more “hey, are you feeling okay? Anything I can do?”

      • Anon for this :

        About a year into my job, I was pretty certain that somebody was in dire need of medical help because of the sounds coming from her stall, and I offered to get help. She declined, but I went and got someone else (fortunately, because the person ended up hospitalized for a few days, not just food poisoining or something).

        Just wanted to share as being polite is one thing, and getting medical help for those in need is another.

  12. Unfortunately, I can relate to this issue. I’ve been thru cancer treatment in the past year. I told only my managers at the office & worked out a schedule, & luckily nobody was nosy. But scheduling “convenient” appointments can be almost impossible with some doctors, such as specialists, who can be tightly booked or their procedures require you to be at their offices for specific time periods (esp. when there is lab work or tests).

    Book the time on your office calendar as “personal / busy / do not disturb” (or whatever your office convention is for “don’t bug me”) as far in advance as you can. Pad the appointment time a little — it’s better to come back early from a dr. appt. than run late. Tell the dr. office that you need to schedule as many appts. at once as possible; get followups setup early so you can put them into your work calendar. This may take some doing bec., again, some specialists have weird calendars (yes, even crazier than lawyers & corporate types).

    Prepare to make good use of your pre/post appointment time by bringing your phone or computer or paperwork to do in the waiting room, if you feel up to it. See if you can work from home before / after less convenient appointments. Basically, you have to do everything possible to make the dr. appts. less of an inconvenience & less conspicuous. That can help draw attention away from them & your condition, & hopefully ppl will be less prone to ask questions.

    • no specific tips but commiserations from another cancer-treated person. scheduling oncology/scan/test appointments can be hard, often with huge waiting lists (at least that is the case where I am), and factoring in a harsh manager/HR has been almost as challenging (emotionally) as dealing with cancer.

  13. I have a chronic illness and have frequent doctors appointments and go for blood work ALL the time. My way of dealing with people being nosy is by cutting it off from the start. I’ have always be open and honest about my health issues and because of that people don’t ask questions. They always just assume it is because of my illness. Granted not everyone feels comfortable with sharing but it saves a lot of stress, thinking of lies etc.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I do the same but I understand when/if people don’t want to do this.

  14. You have to be upfront with your supervisors, obviously but you can tell nosy co-workers and underlings a white lie about where you were. Say you were taking a child or elderly parent to the doctor, that’s what I do. Or just change the subject.

  15. I agree with the comments on first appts in the morning and right after lunch. However, I believe that in many medical conditions (pregnancy included) continuity of care with the same provider throughout the duration is very important. I just had my first baby four days ago and feel that any issues that arose were tracked and handled with consistency because we saw the same provider group since our first prenatal appointment. If it’s possible to stay with the same group (moving, unhappy with provider, etc. all good reasons to switch) then I would recommend it. Just my two cents from a sleep-deprived brain!

  16. Anonymous :

    Great topic.

  17. As an ob-gyn I need to chime in here….S should consider finding another ob. Modified activity, in the first trimester, for a subchorionic hemorrshage makes no sense. It’s a risk factor for miscarriage but there is NO way to prevent a first trimester miscarriage. If it’s affecting her job she should get a second opinion – it’s an unnecessary intervention.

    Ladies, if you have an ob who puts you on bed rest or modified bed rest, particularly early in pregnancy, tread carefully. That is a sure fire sign that this doc is old school and is not practicing based on good evidence. There was even a recent article in our society journal positing that prescribing bedrest in most cases is unethical, since it doesn’t work! And in my experience, the folks who prescribe bedrest frequently are the same docs who do unidicated episiotomies and convenience c sections.

    • BeenThere :

      Thank you, as someone contemplating there first pregnancy I really appreciate this advice!

  18. OttLobbyist :

    This is an interesting discussion. The most interesting part is that it assumes you have a lot of choice in your appointment times. With the Canadian medical system, demand is very high for GPs, specialists, even walk-in clinics, depending on where you live. If you need an appointment, sometimes you just have to take whatever time you can get so scheduling for discretion is almost impossible. I think the direct approach is best: “I have medical appointments on dates X,Y, Z. Here are the arrangements I have made regarding workload. I will let you know if things change.”

  19. What about therapy appointments? Kat says that if you make a regular “appointment day” for doctors, then co-workers may assume that you have therapy that day, implying therapy can be a good cover for other medical appointments. Am I being overly sensitive to think that having regular therapy appointments is still somewhat stigmatizing? I am soon starting at a new (small) law firm in NY, and I’ll have to continue my weekly therapy appointment in the late afternoons. What do people say when they explain (to secretaries, co-workers) that they have a weekly therapy appointment?