Pay attention to patient waiting times

Waiting room in chiropractors officeThis is a speeded up world and the admonition to “take time and smell the roses” doesn’t apply when it comes to a health care practice. Patients often visit a chiropractor when faced with an acute problem like back pain. Later, after being educated about chiropractic as a lifetime wellness program, they may come in for regular adjustments without being spurred on by symptoms. But many new and current patients feel they need help right away and can’t or don’t want to wait days or even weeks to come in for their visit.

Waiting for an appointment isn’t a huge problem for the chiropractic profession – yet. There are indications that longer waiting periods may be in store. Some DCs are cutting back on the number of days or hours they see patients. Coupled with an increased demand for chiropractic services, this is creating a backlog for some doctors. It’s not uncommon for patients to have to wait up to a week (or more) to get an appointment, even for what they consider an “emergency.”

At this point, the situation is a far cry from what patients face when wanting to make a non-emergency appointment for a medical provider. A survey conducted earlier this year by the Massachusetts Medical Society found that the average wait for family medicine was 36 days, a week longer than in the 2010 survey. Wait times for some specialties in a few cities was as long as three months.

The outcry over this finding focused attention on the problem of getting appointments in a timely manner, and made all providers keenly aware of the public’s attitude toward what it considers overly long waiting periods.

In the past, some DC practices reserved one day a week for new patient appointments but that still leaves some people waiting six days to see the doctor – six days for them to “shop around” and find someone who can take them that day.

If at all possible, schedule new patients within two days of their call. Consider reserving an hour a day for new patients or “emergency” visits from regulars.

By showing patients you’re available to provide help when they need you, you’ll be making a great first impression and setting the tone for a long-term relationship. Yet, don’t get so eager to bring in new patients that you end up pushing existing patients to the side. One of the top complaints about health care practices is the amount of time patients have to sit in the waiting or exam room.

The normal waiting times for chiropractors rated on one major online doctor review site ranged from five to 30 minutes, but some extended to as much as an hour. Anything more than 15-20 minutes seemed to trigger complaints in some patients.

One patient posted this note: “Very slow! Every appointment I had to wait in the waiting room for at least 45 minutes. Staff needs to work on their people skills.”

Another stated: “This is a classic meat-market kind of chiropractor. Wait in the waiting room for 40 minutes past your appointment time to be put through the mill.”

Still another: “Appointments are dropped and patients are left waiting in the waiting room up to an hour after a scheduled appointment, that’s it … you’re dropped. Come back again soon??? I think not. And if you do get a table, you’ll have to wait some more.”

You get the picture. People aren’t going to put up with waiting an unduly long time to get an appointment and they don’t want to wait more than 20-30 minutes to see the doctor once they’re in the office. That’s not unreasonable. All patients – new and existing – are valuable to a practice and we need to show them the respect and consideration they deserve.

By now you don’t need any more proof of the importance of being “available” to patients. But I have to share with you one more story I read online. This situation – which is extremely rare – shows how bad things can get if you’re not careful in your office:

The patient, who posted her review on a major doctor-rating site, explained that she arrived early in order to fill out new patient paperwork, and then “proceeded to wait 30 minutes while the chiropractor saw patients who arrived after I did. I asked the receptionist how long I’d have to wait – and she assured me that I would be seen in five minutes. After I had been waiting for an hour, the chiropractor came out to the waiting room to see me. He told me that I completed my paperwork too quickly, and proceeded to blame the receptionist for my wait. I asked him if he would be able to see me immediately – and he said he needed to finish up with the patients he had. ALL of these patients arrived after me. He asked me if I could return 3 nights later. I explained that I was very upset and frustrated by being made to wait for (at this point) over an hour, and that I didn’t understand why patients who arrived after me would be see before me. He did not offer any explanation or apology, so I left. In pain, and with much frustration and dismay.”

If even one patient in your office experiences a problem like this and posts the story online, it can cost you dozens of other patients. Don’t let it get to this point. Monitor your waiting times and take time to smell the roses only after you see all our patients for the day!


Did you enjoy this post? Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader.


No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.