Dear Bill | Doctor Runs Late

Posted by Bill Esteb on Mar 14th 2020

Dear Bill Do you have any suggestions to help us help our doctor stay on time? We are currently calling patients to move them back when we are running behind. I'm wondering how that makes us look to the patient. Please let me know what you suggest.


Naturally, setting appointment times and then repeatedly not honoring them is disrespectful to patients. Whether accidental, intentional or unconscious, it communicates a disregard for them. It basically says, "Someone else is more important than you."

Offering patients an appointment time is a promise. Repeatedly breaking that promise makes one untrustworthy. Which affects patient follow through, patient referrals and reactivations—all from the one act of not honoring your time commitments.

By the way, the reverse is true. Making promises and keeping them is the most effective way to build trust. Trust, along with competency, is among the two largest practice-building principles.

What many overlook is that for patients, coming to the practice is an interruption; and imposition. (A drug solution is usually more convenient, faster and cheaper!) And in today's time-precious world, the time that it takes to get in, get adjusted and out the door, may become more "expensive" to some patients than the financial cost.

Thus, this habit of not being conscious of the time can have profound affects on patient loyalty and puts stress on the support team. But you already know that.

When the schedule busting occurs from accepting an acute walk-in patient, it sends the signal that new, symptomatic patients are more important than existing, established patients. Trying to simultaneously run a pain relief clinic (because it's gratifying and you get a dopamine hit from grateful patients) and enjoy the stability of regulars who show up on a wellness basis is a difficult contradiction to maintain.

Calling patients and rescheduling is classic symptom treating. If it's something that's only necessary on a relatively infrequent basis, no problem. You many need to simply accept it as part of the gig.

Or, simply reserve more time for each office visit. Instead of booking say, eight an hour, reduce it to six an hour.

But ultimately this is about discipline. To become more aware of time, you might have the chiropractor wear a pocket timer that is reset with each patient visit. Amazon offers several. Such as this one and this one. Granted, this approach requires the chiropractor to be mindful enough to reset the timer with each patient!

Or, you might consider an old school pocket pager. When the "score clock" you keep at the front desk has run down you simply phone the number and the doctor's pager vibrates.

If these overtures are still ignored, have the pager rewired to administer a discipline-producing shock to the doctor.

Just kidding.

On a serious note, this lack of discipline around timeliness is likely because there is some type of belief, benefit or secondary gain in play. There are many possibilities:

1. The belief that more time produces better clinical outcomes. However, there just isn't any evidence of this. Countless chiropractor adjust a single bone, taking 30-seconds and they regularly see amazing results.

2. The belief that face time is essential for motivating patients. It's tempting to justify the visit fee by doing more or engaging in small talk to insure the patient is still engaged and on board. Turns out that even with the best intentions the influence created this way is rather small.

3. The doctor is getting his or her social needs met during visits. Schmoozing is an expensive use of time. This can happen if patients comet to think they are buying your time rather than your talent. Few patients traipse across town to hear the latest joke or hear your take on last night's talk show monologue.

4. As an extrovert the doctor gets energy from being with people. Related to getting ones social needs met, the low self-esteem on display here is off-putting to patients and hobbles the potential of the practice.

5. The doctor talks too much and imagines that his or her words are making a difference. Words, especially those that are spoken, are ephemeral and ineffective. Whatever the chiropractor says while the patient is face down (where he or she can't see the patient's eyes roll) is quickly forgotten by the time the patient gets to their car.

Need I go on?

Time is our most precious resource. Make sure it is used wisely.

Thanks for the question!

Email Bill with your question.

«  Previous Next »