It is an understood and disturbing fact that when you go to a physician's office, you will wait. I once waited up to 90 minutes to see a doctor, and I almost walked away. I'm pleased to say that while few dental practices run behind that much, I do see teams that routinely run 15 to 30 minutes behind all day.
Why does this happen consistently? Sometimes, it is that one doctor or hygienist who struggles with time management. And I have heard a myriad of reasons (and excuses) for running behind, but one thing that is universal is that the other team members are stressed out and frustrated. I believe we can all agree that this common thread can stand alone as a motivator to stay on time, but it rarely does.
How else will poor time management negatively impact your practice?
Respecting patients' time
Let's talk about the most important person in every practice: the patient. No matter what the reason is for tardiness, when you run behind on a regular basis, you are teaching your patients that you do not respect their time.
And yet, so often, if the patient runs late, I see them turned away or reprimanded. A common and more acceptable protocol for dealing with a late patient is to complete a limited number of procedures originally scheduled if clinically possible. But this will only be effective if you have set the precedent that time is important.
Most practitioners might agree that trying to hurry through all the scheduled procedures may compromise the quality of care, and I believe accommodating late patients in this scenario will train them that running late is acceptable.
This becomes a real issue in some hygiene departments. Teams tell me that patients will begin calling before their appointment to ascertain if the hygienist is on time. Essentially, they are asking for permission to be late, which you should be hesitant to give. Conversely, if you ask them to come at the scheduled time, and then they wait as usual, you risk (rightfully) upsetting the patient.
What events in a practice throw a wrench into the schedule? A few examples are not seating a patient immediately at the time of their appointment, lengthy social conversations during an appointment, or poor time management during a procedure.
Your practice can remedy this situation and begin to train your patients that the appointment time is important by using the following techniques:
- Emphasize the time allotted along with the time of the appointment when scheduling.
- Verify that the patient has the appointment noted where it will not be forgotten. "Do you have Thursday, June 8, at 10:00 a.m. written in your calendar? Great, Julie will be seeing you for an hour to complete your preventive hygiene appointment, including x-rays and the doctor's evaluation."
- Verify the same information when confirming the appointment via messaging and in person, always following HIPAA guidelines.
- Don't keep patients waiting in the reception area or the treatment room (unless it is part of the procedure). Escort them to the treatment room immediately.
- If you are running behind, be honest with your patient family. Let them know the reason (watching those HIPAA regulations), apologize, and assure them you try to do everything in your power to always be punctual.
- Make sure you are scheduling the appropriate amount of time for each procedure and working efficiently.
If a patient is running late and calls, don't ask vague questions about how close they are, as their arrival might depend on traffic, parking, and other circumstances out of their control. Instead, let them know that the provider may not have time to complete all procedures while not patronizing them but emphasizing the need for the entire appointment time to provide the usual high quality of care.
If patients let you know they are running late, I suggest a script along these lines for your front-desk team:
[Patient name], what time do you expect you will arrive in our office? In five minutes? To confirm, you mean at 10:10? Thank you for that. I need to let you know that for [your hygienist] to complete the best care for you, and stay on time for her other patients, she may not be able to complete the entire appointment today. I am sure you can understand.
The script would continue along these lines:
I see you are scheduled for your preventive hygiene, x-rays, and doctor's evaluation. She and Dr. Jones will complete the diagnostic procedures and evaluation today, and we will then know precisely how much time to schedule for the preventive therapy procedures. It would not be fair to you to attempt to rush through those procedures. I am sure you agree. If you are unable to get here before 10:30, we will reschedule the appointment to another time.
Routinely running behind can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on your practice and your patient family. Retraining patients who have long been allowed to be late takes some time and will not stand a chance unless you and your team first commit to respecting your patients' time.
Start with some of the suggestions above, then implement a few each week or each month. Over time, you will find that you are less stressed, your patients are happier, and they are more accepting of your recommendations because it's clear you value them as a client.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.