Article Date: 10/1/2009

The Doctor Will (Finally) See You
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The Doctor Will (Finally) See You

Reduce patient wait time, and you'll create a happier office. Here's how.


The number one complaint patients report on our clients' surveys is the amount of time they wait to see the doctor. You would think this would only show up in large practices, but that's far from the case. Give a doctor 30 minutes for an office visit, and he'll take 35. Give him 40, he'll take 45. The adage “nature abhors a vacuum” certainly applies to how O.D.s manage their time.

Here are ways to reduce patient wait time in your practice.

Time for the reality check

First, and perhaps most importantly, it's time for a reality check. Yes, I know you're a personable, funny, caring doctor. “My patients love me” is something we hear all the time. However, they love other things more — they just won't tell you. So, while you're patient appears to enjoy your non-clinical small talk, keep in mind that many (and in our experience, most) will not tell you, “Shut up, and take care of my eyes.” But, they'll tell a seemingly disinterested third-party observer (that would be our consultants during a patient exit interview). The moral of the story? Non-clinical small talk is fine — but keep it short. Your patients don't care as much about your private life or enjoy sharing theirs with you as much as you might think. In fact, they would prefer not to spend any unnecessary time in your practice.

Shorten time slots

Next, if your current appointment template is determined by how many slots the printer put on each page of your appointment book, it's time for you to take control of your practice instead of leaving it up to Staples. Do you book 30-minute slots because that's how your paper book or software is set up? If so, to decrease patient waiting time, make your appointment slots shorter — for example from 30 to 25 minutes. No, that's not a typo. I meant shorter, not longer, and here's why.

Remember, nature abhors a vacuum. So, if you allow yourself more time for a patient visit, and don't do anything to decrease the amount of patients who need to see you, you might put a band-aid on the patient wait time problem for patients inside your practice, but you now have fewer slots available. That means that patients outside the practice are waiting longer to see you. Instead of scheduling an appointment in four days, it might now take six. Or as often happens, when you increase appointment time slots, which decreases the absolute number of appointments, those patients who have an emergency will invariably now wait longer once they finally do get to your office.

Take the challenge

Doctors often challenge the notion of shorter time slots by arguing, “I can't do the amount of work in less time.” Oh really? If I were to say to you, “Do your 30-minute exam in 25 minutes,” you don't think you could do that and provide the same amount of care you provide now? How's this for a real life example: During the last appointments before your vacation, don't you do things in less time? Sorry to be harsh, but the reality is most of us can work faster without a compromise in quality if we absolutely have to. And if you want your patients to be happy and stay with your practice — the same ones who you think love you and aren't complaining — then you absolutely have to. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2009