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In response to least week's tip about cultivating referrals from existing patients, a colleague asked me if I had any suggestions about how to stay on time for appointments. It is indeed easy for doctors to become complacent about this, because all doctors seem to run behind. It's easy to rationalize that you had a difficult case or an emergency. Of course, the mere fact that most doctors routinely run late is all the more reason for you to stay on schedule. The dramatic difference between your punctuality and other doctors will be very apparent and much appreciated. Everyone's time is important to them.
If you are often running late, the first step is to analyze where and how the breakdown occurs. That should give you a clue as to how to remedy the problem. Hold a staff meeting about this topic and obtain input from your receptionists and technicians... they may see it clearer than you do.
If completing the patient questionnaire is taking a long time, streamline it or mail it in advance. Remember - long forms are a turnoff.
If patients often arrive late, have the receptionist suggest over the phone that they arrive about 10 minutes before the appointment time.
If there is a bottleneck in the pre-test room, try to minimize the time there and have the tech move into an exam room or other area. You may be ready for two fully equipped pre-test rooms. If it lets you see a couple more patients per day, all those instruments would be paid for in no time.
If patients talk too much about trivial matters, try regaining control in a polite way.
If the doctor talks too much, he or she should try to change the habit -- or create longer appointment slots to accommodate the typical time period. I recommend the former - patients generally like to hear the short, simple version about technical issues.
Consider placing a strategic block-out in the appointment schedule in the morning and afternoon every day - to allow the doctor to see an emergency or return phone calls.
Doctors generally need two exam rooms to be efficient; moving back and forth between the two.
Make sure you have enough staff. There must be someone ready to call the patient in and start pre-testing, and there must be someone available to take the patient over for frame selection. If no one is ever available, you don't have enough staff.
Re-read Tip of the Week #2 at www.optometric.com (under past tips) for another suggestion on how to stay on time.
Staying on schedule is not just important to patients - it is also highly appreciated by staff members who want to have a lunch break or go home to their families. And it makes for a less stressful environment in the office. Practices that respect that retain better employees.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.