Optometric Management Tip # 345   -   Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Patient Waiting Time

As we continue our analysis of the major influence points in your practice, let's look at the typical wait time for a patient. A long wait has become the norm in health care offices today, but just because it's common doesn't mean we should accept it.

There are some medical specialties that are inherently extremely busy and have all the patient demand they could ever need but, unfortunately, eye care is usually not one of them. Most eye care practices need many more patients to reach high success levels. Rather than worry and wonder how things got this way, I'm far more interested in changing it. The way to build patient demand for private practice eye care is excellent customer service. Making people wait beyond a reasonable period of time is a huge step in the wrong direction.

An opportunity

Most practices need more competitive advantages: reasons why a patient should choose your office over others in the area. Developing those advantages can be difficult and expensive. Earning a reputation for generally being on time for appointments is a very strong advantage that doesn't cost anything and can be implemented immediately. Smart practice owners embrace the opportunity to be different than most doctors' offices by being on time and they generate patient loyalty and word of mouth buzz in the process.

Remedies for chronic problems

If your practice often runs more than ten minutes past appointment times, consider these strategies for changing your operations. How to handle early and late arrivers

There is no question that people who don't arrive on time play havoc with your schedule. The early bird wants to be seen right away and the late person wonders why you are not calling him in since it's past his appointment time. Both would like to ignore that you have other appointments.

Train your receptionists to politely acknowledge the current time at the moment of check-in. Just say, "Hi Mr. Jones! It's so nice to see you again! I see you have a 3:00 appointment and it's now 3:20. We'll work you into the schedule just as soon as possible. It shouldn't be too long of a wait; please make yourself comfortable." This approach let's the patient know that you know he's late and that any wait is his fault. The same is true with early folks - mention the current time and tell them you'll try to work them in sooner than the appointed time if possible.

Staff members would sometimes like to be tougher on late arrivers, but my approach is very lenient and understanding. If you work with people and genuinely try to serve them and avoid inconveniencing them, it all works out.

Wait times for patients who drop in

As you examine typical wait times in your practice, don't forget to consider patients who stop in to pick up glasses or replacement contacts or to have an adjustment or repair. Since these folks don't generally have appointments (I don't recommend appointments for these kinds of visits), a small wait is understandable, but it should be brief most of the time. If there are often long waits for picking up glasses I would be concerned that you don't have enough employees.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management