Physicians in clinical practice are busy. We can be very busy. Sometimes we are so busy that we do not have time to call home to check on our families. Sometimes we are so busy that we do not get to take bathroom breaks as we would like. It seems that our schedules are full and there is no room to breathe at all. However, as the busy day moves on, it is very important not to forget to take the time needed to occasionally "stop and smell the roses."
For those of us that are blessed with blossoming practices and an almost never-ending supply of patients, we can sometimes take things for granted. Early on in my private practice I made some mistakes that cost me patients in the long run. When I was early in my career, I was firm with our no-show and our late policy. Patients that came in just one minute past the 15-minute grace period were asked to reschedule - period. I asked my office staff not to bother me with repetitive asking. Just reschedule them because you have already put another patient in their place anyway, was my fast response. After a period of time, I noted that those patients that were being told to reschedule were finding other physicians to provide their care.
Now, we must all require our patients to be punctual and responsible. However, each case can be uniquely different. What if the patient was held up in traffic? What if the patient could not get their child checked out of school in the timely manner they wanted? What if they were held up by a train? What if they had a flat tire? There is a difference between being irresponsible (i.e. sleeping late, losing track of time) and the above delays that really are out of their control. I then started to ask the staff to buzz me regarding each and every late arrival. I found that giving a little and forgiving the patient for their tardiness (when it was not really their fault) was starting to produce exceptionally high satisfaction scores. What is more significant is that the patients that received forgiveness for their tardiness were always on time for future appointments and I cannot recall anyone taking advantage of my good nature.
My practice in rural Virginia covers a county that is over 45 miles in length. We have patients that come from the far western border that will drive over 30 miles to our location rather than driving five miles across the state line into Kentucky. The same goes for patients living on the southern border who choose to stay in state and not cross over into Tennessee. Taking this extra driving into consideration, I make it a point to thank my patients for driving the extra distance to come to our office. Everyone knows that fuel prices are at an all-time high and certainly our patients are feeling the pinch. It takes only a few seconds of your time during each patient encounter to thank them for their loyalty.
Several days ago I had an extraordinarily busy day. My schedule was full and I already had to stay late. My receptionist walked back to my office a few minutes after 5 p.m. to ask if I would see another sick child. I already had two patients waiting and my first response was to say, "Just tell them to come first thing in the morning." However, just before the words slipped out of my mouth, I thought about my two young children. What if one or both of them were ill? I would certainly want them to be cared for by their physician on the same day. I told my staff to let the child come in anyway. Needless to say, the parents of the child were ever so grateful, and since that time we have had new referrals for new patients based on their word of mouth recommendation.
We are blessed to have the honor and privilege of caring for our patients. We must remember that each patient we treat is someone's mother, father, brother, grandmother, etc. Each patient we treat is a unique human being. Things can happen that are out of their control, just like emergencies happen that are out of our control.
Thank your patients for waiting on you during those times when you are held up. Forgive them for times that they are held up. Thank your patients for allowing you to care for them. Be grateful for the honor of providing their care and you will see that your patients will very much appreciate the compassionate treatment.
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