Optometric Management Tip # 97 - Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The early and late arriver
Last week I wrote about the importance of staying on time for appointments, along with some tips on how to achieve this. But patients who arrive late... or even early... can really mess up your schedule.
As we analyze this practice management problem, I'd start by asking what your receptionist says to a patient who arrives early or late. If you aren't sure what she says, or if she simply says hello and checks the person in, that is a good place to start. It's important that all staff members who greet patients are well trained to handle the little details that keep a schedule on track. This may be a good topic for a special staff meeting. Here are some considerations:
One final tip for improving the perception that your office is timely is for receptionists to keep patients informed. It is far better to tell a person in advance that the office is running a little behind schedule, and give an estimate of how long the wait is likely to be, rather than let them sit and stew about it. If true, you may want to state that the doctor had to care for an eye emergency, which caused the delay. Giving a waiting patient an interim update, along with an apology, shows that you care and have respect for the patient's time.
- First, the receptionist should make a simple and friendly comment about the current time to patients who check in early or late. See below for why and what to say.
- Patients who arrive very early may think that they should be called in soon after check-in, and they may forget that their appointment time is much later. If your staff calls this person in 10 minutes after their appointed time, but they arrived 30 minutes early, they waited for 40 minutes - and they could be upset about that.
- Patients who arrive late can hurt the rest of the schedule, and they may not be able to be "worked in" until there is a break in the patient flow. In other words, we try to accommodate the late-comer, but there may be a slight wait. It's important to take the blame off the practice, by letting the patient know, that we know, they were late, and that we'll do our best to work them in as soon as possible.
- We don't make people feel badly in our practice. Our staff is very understanding and accommodating to the early or late arriver, but we must respect the other patients who are on time for their appointments. If the late-comer does not want to wait, rescheduling the visit is always an option.
- The receptionist should always be aware of the current time (a small clock helps). This is necessary in order for the receptionist to intelligently comment on the time to patients who are early or late.
- It may seem a little bold to speak frankly to a patient who is early or late, but the time to do it is when they first check in. Here are some examples:
- "Good morning, Mr. Smith! I see your appointment is scheduled for 10:30 and it's only 10:00. I'll see if we can work you in any sooner, but it may not be much before your appointed time. Please make yourself comfortable; would you like a cup of coffee?" Obviously, this statement should be tailored to the actual office schedule at the time.
- "Good morning, Mrs. Jones! Your appointment was for 10:30, and I see it is now 11:00. We had to go ahead and start some other patients, but we can work you in as soon as possible. I would estimate we can see you within the next . Will that be OK - or would you rather reschedule your appointment?
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management