Running a medical practice is messy and inefficient. We can’t always predict how long an office visit will last, sick and urgent patients need to be booked in – or squeezed in. The schedule will never fit neatly to the patients, nor the patients to the schedule.
But do we just throw up our hands and give up? No. We do, however, need to be adjusting the schedule and keeping patients informed of lengthy delays. If you are always running late, patients will adjusts for that, and start coming in late. Which leads to you being further behind and never catching up. Patients may hang on, or get fed up and switch to another physician. Either way, these are not happy people, and your relationship will always have an edge to it. Not the setup for a healthy and helpful physician – patient partnership.
If you are always running behind, look to see if where the delays are. Sometimes changes in procedures and processes can unjam your system that is causing delays. You may be at the point where you should add another clinician, whether a physician or nurse practitioner. Or, you may have to adjust your schedule.
Patients do understand that stuff happens. This is where you can surprise patients and tell them when they arrive that you are running, say, 30 minutes behind. You can offer to re-book, although most patients will stay. If a patient is able to walk around the corner to a coffee shop, take their cell phone number in case they don’t show in time.
The front desk people should be watching the reception area, aware of patients who are waiting 15 or more minutes past their appointment time without being called back. Call backs to an “inner” waiting room, or sitting in an exam room cooling their heels is not seeing the physician – you’re still late. A visit doesn’t really start until actual services start without lengthy delays in between. Patients are not stupid – taking vitals and then waiting another 15 minutes doesn’t fool anyone.
Waiting for a physician is a classic “joke”, but it’s not funny for anyone – patients, physicians, or staff. Managing the wait time pays off in how patients view the quality of your care and the health guidance.