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Limiting Questions Doesn't Mean Better Patient Flow at Your Practice


You may think limiting visit questions will improve patient flow at your medical practice. Well, think again, as the problem is likely your operations.

Description:  You may think limiting visit questions will improve patient flow at your medical practice. Well, think again, as the problem is likely your operations.

Recently, I visited my personal physician’s office for a routine annual physical; it had been a year since I had been in their office and my how things have changed. One thing that stood out is that the clinic had taken my advice and taken down the glass partition between the receptionist and the waiting room. The other thing that stood out - there were signs all over the office (waiting room, restroom, exam room) that read:

“EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY: For the consideration of the other patients, staff, and physicians, please limit your questions to the issue that you scheduled the appointment for. If you have more than one ailment, complaint or issue, please schedule a separate appointment and let the receptionist know so that additional time may be scheduled.”

This is an office that was never particularly on-time.  I have been their patient for a little over five years, and seen them anywhere from annually to weekly over that time period. Here is the issue again: They have never been on time, and guess what, they weren’t anywhere near on time that day either. And to top it off, it was more than a little irritating to see their new policy.

The majority of patients are respectful and considerate of a physician’s time (despite feeling as though a clinic is not respectful of their time), and while there may be a patient or three in a day’s time that take up more than their allowed time period, posting signs in this manner is a grave error in customer service and may even lead a litigious patient or patient’s family down a path to consulting an attorney.

In the normal course of discussion, this particular physician asks every year what I do for a living, and every year when I respond, she looks a little nervous and asks how their office "stacks up." Every year I have been able to say things like "ya’ll are doing alright" and "not too bad -your schedule needs to be tightened up" and "lose the glass door in front of the receptionist." This year I took the opportunity to ask about the new signage and policy.

The physician’s response was that it was an attempt to keep the schedule running on time, and keep the "chatty Kathys" to a minimum. When probed, she confessed that it didn’t work; they were still behind, she was still missing her daughter’s basketball practice, and they still had about the same number of "chatty Kathys" in a day. They had been using this new policy for about six months.

The reality is that people that are not considerate of a physician’s time and cannot be forced into consideration by signs and policies. Typically, it is not the patient's fault that the schedule is running behind. It is from poor clinic flow and lack of organization. As most things in life it can be difficult to turn that pointing finger away from others and towards yourself. Adding signs and policies like these will likely cause a patient to schedule their first ailment with you, and then go see another practitioner for the rest of their ailments and care, even if they are not one of the chatty patients.

The easiest way to fix chatty patients is to:

1. Be on time yourself and be respectful of your patient's time.

2. Have proper clinic flow and organization

3. Attempt to schedule chatty patients at the last patient of the morning or afternoon.

Does your practice have signs and encourage patients to limit their appointments to specifically one ailment or issue?

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