Dealing with Frequently Late Patients

September 6, 2012

Every medical practice has them - patients who are persistently late for appointments. Here are four tips to turn the tardy into time conscious.

We have all had them, that handful of patients that is always 20 minutes to 30 minutes late, and sometimes even unapologetically. Having been in several different practices, I can personally attest to finding them everywhere. And after last week’s post, I know that you all are experiencing them as well.

So what do you do when you have implemented all of the ideas from last weeks post, and you still have a few chronically tardy patients? Here are some ideas to move things along:

1. First get to the bottom of why they are chronically late: Is it a mom with kids hanging off of her that is obviously distressed or are they coming from a great distance? It has been my experience over the past 12 or so years that there are very, very few people that are intentionally late or just don’t care. Most of the time, the attitude of not caring comes from embarrassment that they are late - again. Make sure you ask your patients, nicely, why they were late. Sometimes the answer is in the reason. Chart the answer, or make notes in the appointment system, so that the next time a person schedules the appointment the reason can be taken into account.

2. Give patients written warnings. When a patient is more than 10 minutes late, give them a pre-printed written or verbal warning, and make sure to note these in the charts.

First Offense: “Thank you for coming to your appointment today. We will work you in today, although you may have a wait to account for the patients that arrived at their scheduled appointment times. In the future, please call to let us know you are late and on your way so that we can try to make necessary adjustments. “

Second Offense: “Thank you for coming to your appointment today. This is your second warning that you have arrived late for two appointments in a row. Please let us know if we can schedule you at a more convenient time. We schedule our patients to see everyone as efficiently and effectively as possible. If you must be late, please call and let us know in advance. If you are late for a third time, we will have to limit you to our 4:30 p.m. slots.”

Third Offense: Some offices would fire a patient at this point, but I would suggest limiting that patient to the first slot or the last slot of the day, or at the lunch hour.

3. Make notes in your scheduling system to tell the patient they are scheduled for 3 p.m. but actually have them on the schedule for 3:30 p.m. That may sound crazy, but it works.

4. And if all else fails, you can certainly officially “fire” a patient with a certified letter, but I advise people to use that for more grievous actions than arriving late.

All in all the best practice is to use compassion and empathy. Remember that even though you are in the business of medicine, you are still in the customer service business and you should make every attempt to make the customer/patient happy.

You will find a few that abuse the system. If you are finding more than a few and it is becoming a real hindrance to the practice, then it’s likely time to have an objective third-party opinion or to poll your patients for the answers.

Find out more about Audrey "Christie" McLaughlin and our other Practice Notes bloggers.