Patient Visits: When No-Shows Aren't a Bad Thing

January 13, 2014

Patient no-shows: Most medical practices want to avoid them, but sometimes I hope they happen in the best interests of my office.

There is often talk about practice schedules and how to avoid no-shows, and there are certainly things that can be done to minimize them. But there are certain things that we have no control over, and weather is certainly a big factor.

Our schedule has been disrupted by blizzards (two feet of snow three Christmases ago) and hurricanes (remember Sandy?). I’m sure other offices have had the same if not worse. Sometimes, we can prepare ahead of time. Right before Sandy hit, we called patients to cancel their appointments and promised to accommodate them when the office reopened. Of course, we only cancelled two days worth of patients before all power and phone service was disrupted, and who knew so many people would still be without phone or power for over a week? Last week, a snowstorm went through that was so bad that only three patients made it in, which was fine since two of our three staff members couldn’t make it.

One day last week, the weatherman said there may be some "light snow" in the morning and a "possible wintry mix turning to rain." When I got up this morning, there was no snow on the ground; nothing falling from the sky. By the time I left to go to the hospital, there was a light coating of snow on the ground. Two hours later, as I’m driving into the office parking lot, my car fishtails on the black ice. The ramp into our backdoor was icy, too.

I immediately went to the front steps to assess their safety as we had a full schedule today. It was covered in ice. I tried to shovel it, but it was a solid sheet; I had to whack it with the shovel and try to break it up. But our office is the in back of the complex and there is about a 40-foot sidewalk for patients to traverse and today it was like a skating rink out there. We had to "borrow" salt from a neighboring office as our supply ran out after the last storm. I called our office condo manager and left her a message to call our snow removal company and tell them we needed ice removal and salt or sand ASAP. Patients began showing up and complained about the conditions. One called from the parking lot to say she can’t even get out of her car. My medical assistant went out to help her but they both decided it was too dangerous. So she stayed in her car and went home.

The business person in me thought, "This is going to be a bad day," and dreaded all the no-shows. But the physician in me kept praying that people would have the sense to stay where they were today. The lawsuit-fearing part of me was hoping that, too, because God forbid they slip on the ice in our complex.

Well, some people were no-shows, some cancelled, and fortunately, those who made it here did so safely. At this rate, with storms every week, our collections at the end of the month aren’t going to look great. But what can you do when Mother Nature doesn’t play nice?