Strategies For Getting Your Practice To Stay On Schedule

Lynn Homisak, PRT

   Addressing late arrivals and no shows. It is not unrealistic to expect that there will be times when patients legitimately arrive late for an appointment. Maybe they got lost, stuck in traffic or had an emergency that detained them. In all possible cases, we try to be fair and accommodating. However, it is important that your staff does not give up the control of these types of situations to your patients to the point that they take for granted the time you reserved for them.

   For those patients who make a habit of arriving late for each appointment, staff need to professionally address their tardiness and present it in such a way that it is in their best interest, not yours, to reschedule them. If the office puts such a policy in place, it is important to support your staff’s actions and not contradict them. Of course, if the schedule permits, your staff can offer patients the option of waiting.

   But remember, by bending over backwards to fit these types of patients in every time they come in late (or treat them for multiple conditions when they were scheduled for one), you are actually training them to repeat this unacceptable behavior. This is not fair to all your other compliant patients who arrive on time.

   You can’t monitor it if you can’t measure it. By conducting random time and motion studies, you can pinpoint exactly when patients are waiting the longest during an encounter and where you can reduce or eliminate wasted time.

   For a more accurate study (without interrupting your staff’s daily routine), get your patients involved. Give them a worksheet when they present and ask them to record specific times during their progression through the office. This includes when they entered, their scheduled visit, when staff called them into the treatment room, what time the doctor presented, how long they spent with the doctor and how long it took to be discharged. If they know they can play a small role in helping to make their future visits more time-efficient, they are happy and willing to be a part of that process.

Final Words

In closing, I’d like to share some statistics I found interesting. In 2009, NCR U.S. Consumer Research conducted a study and found that:1
• Seventy-two percent of consumers were more likely to choose a healthcare provider that offered the flexibility to interact via online, mobile and kiosk self-service channels over a provider that did not.
• Seventy-six percent of consumers found waiting at a hospital or doctor’s office to be the greatest frustration they faced at a healthcare appointment.
• Sixty-one percent said they would choose one provider over another based on the appointment scheduling process.
• When it came to convenience, patients wanted to spend less time on routine tasks like scheduling appointments, paying medical bills and completing forms. A significant number looked to conduct transactions with their healthcare provider online or through a mobile device.
• Sixty-two percent of consumers expressed interest in booking or changing medical appointments online, through a mobile device or at a kiosk, and receiving text message reminders of an appointment.
• Fifty-four percent of consumers said the ability to book an appointment online would be convenient to them.

   One can’t help but cringe when you hear that patients who are kept waiting 30 minutes or longer list it as the third most annoying wait, right up there with waiting at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Ouch! Patients have come to expect that doctors encounter emergencies every now and then, but it is not reasonable to expect them every time they come in for a visit.

   One thing is certain. If patients are forced to wait … and wait … and wait while the office sits back and does nothing about it, nothing will ever change, except your patients may eventually get fed up and just go elsewhere. Now, would you blame them?

   Ms. Homisak is the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions and has a Certificate in Human Resource Studies from the Cornell University School of Industry and Labor Relations. She is recognized nationwide as a speaker, writer and expert in staff and human resource management.

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