Optometric Management Tip # 577   -   Wednesday, April 03, 2013
How to Handle Late Patients

I received some nice comments on last week's tip about staff members who frequently show up late for work, but several readers asked me to expand on the side point I made about patients who arrive late. I'm happy to tackle that topic here, but be forewarned: many readers of this column will not like my answer! Read on anyway. I might change your mind on this and there is one gem in here that almost every practice will like and use.

My philosophy
My method for handling late patients is based on an assumption that you want to grow your practice into a huge success and you want to make huge financial profits. I realize that financial gain is not important to everyone, so if you are not that interested in profit, I can understand that you might respond differently.

If you are interested in maximizing revenue and profit as fast as possible, then understand that my approach to late patients is one part of a larger philosophy of excellent customer service. Most ODs only get that to a point and most are not willing to go far enough to make customer service a marketing strategy. The late arriving patient is just one excellent example of how you could drive huge numbers of patients to your practice.

My strategy
My staff makes a strong attempt to confirm every appointment two days in advance, but in spite of that, we know that some patients will arrive late. Here is the part that many ODs and staff won't like: When a patient shows up late in our office; we are extremely understanding. If the patient offers a reason for why they're late, we're very sympathetic. We generally see the patient even if they are quite late, unless we are about to close the office for the day.

I realize that arriving late is disrespectful and disrupts our schedule. But I don't look at this event from our point of view. I look at it from the patient's point of view. From the patient's point of view, he could not help being late and it was not his fault. I don't get caught up in trying to judge whether that is actually true or not. That seems like a waste of time and I can't really be sure, so I just accept it at face value. I prefer to resist trying to teach the patient a lesson in life. I prefer to take advantage of the situation and show the patient how easy we are to do business with.

Moments like this can actually shock a patient, but it causes them to love our practice. As staff members provide this high level of service, it builds our office culture and they can feel that we are different and special. A situation that could easily have caused some anger ends up becoming a moment of kindness.

My tactical approach
We handle late patients one case at a time, but in general we try to see the patient as fast as we can while minimizing the impact on other patients. If we can't do a good job with both, the late patient has to wait. But we take pride in being able to provide an eye exam quickly and with flexibility. We simply make it work and we don't waste more time worrying about it.

Here are some tips that will make dealing with the late patient easier:
Best wishes for continued success,

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