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Don't Waste Patient, Physician Time with Unproductive Visits


Here are four simple tips to avoid a bad experience for a patient and a non-billable service at your medical practice.

The medical profession is a service industry. Part of what makes any service business successful is the manner in which it treats its clients. Although I hear a lot of complaints from physicians about how poorly they are treated by patients, many patients are also mistreated by physicians, whether or not it’s intentional.

As a good example, let me relate to you an interaction I had with a physician this week when following up on a radiology test for my daughter. It should be noted that this appointment was rescheduled three times in order to accommodate the doctor’s schedule, and I was "informed" of the change without any effort to consult my schedule. Although I found this unusual, I let it slide.

Upon arrival, I sat in the waiting room for almost one and a half hours before meeting the physician. Although I approached the receptionist multiple times to check the status of the visit, I was provided with neither an apology nor an explanation, other than being told the doctor was with the prior patient. A long delay with a hungry and tired 4-year-old is not a fun experience. I am surprised I did not walk out!

While some delays cannot be avoided, this physician was not called away to an emergency nor did she perform procedures in her office. When I (finally) saw her, she offered no explanation or apology for the delay (although I was clearly unhappy). She then asked if I had brought the radiology CD with me. I was confused by this question, since I was informed by the hospital that a report/CD would be sent to the doctor. When I related this, she indicated that she had received nothing. Although I had spoken to her office numerous times, at no time was I told this was my responsibility or that they had not received the materials. At this point, it became clear to me that not only had I wasted my time waiting for her, but that the appointment was worthless as well. I will end my story here, but suffice to say I will not return to her office.

As fine a physician as you may be, your interactions with patients affect their impression of you and whether they recommend others to you. How should you avoid the outcome I experienced?

1. A physician and his or her staff should apologize and provide an explanation for delays. An estimate of the delay and an offer to reschedule may be appropriate. Assurances that such delays are out of the ordinary is reassuring to a patient. Train your staff accordingly.

2. There is no reason for hour-plus delays in a typical medical practice. If you are not watching the time you spend with your patients, have a staff member keep you on schedule. While delays do sometimes occur, avoid seeming disrespectful to your patients. Imagine if you went to see a lawyer and had to sit one and a half hours without explanation - would you return? Treat others as you would want to be treated.

3. Inform your patients of expectations regarding materials needed for an appointment. Do so when the patient makes the appointment and in any follow up calls. Note in the file every time the patient is informed. Had I known the physician did not have what she needed, I would have made necessary arrangements! Remember, in the end I am out time, but this physician was not able to bill or be reimbursed for any services. If there is no practice policy to avoid this issue, lost revenue and patient frustration is sure to build.

4. Don’t let your patients leave the office upset, whenever possible. No practice needs patients who are likely to file Internet complaints or spread badwill regarding you or your practice, especially if it’s avoidable.

Interacting with clients in any industry can be challenging. Proper management and training of staff can help avoid many patient issues. While practicing medicine is certainly a noble profession, it is also a business. Success or failure of any business can depend on how your customers are handled.

Find out more about Ericka Adler and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

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