Urgent Walk-Ins, Angry Waiting Room

Read the following question I recently received below and decide how you would handle it.

Question: I’m a receptionist at a busy practice. We have a lot of urgent-care patients coming in without an appointment. We try to fit them in as soon as possible because they often require immediate attention. But the other patients in the clinic often resent having their appointments delayed because of these emergency cases.

I’ve had patients with appointments walk out because they had to wait until the doctor had seen someone with internal bleeding first. How can I explain to these patients the need to see emergency cases first?

So how would you answer this question? Here are some simple ideas of my own.

1. Put up a sign at your front desk that clearly states that patients with appointments will be seen first, except when there is an emergency. Then they will be seen based on their urgency, not necessarily by appointment time. Keeping people informed can make all the difference.

2. Ask patients to call. If running behind is a regular occurrence at you practice, ask patients to call in to see if you are running on time. You may direct them to come in 30 minutes late so they don’t have to wait so long. They will appreciate that you respect their time.

3. Policy handout. Create a pamphlet to be given out on a new patient’s first visit, or for existing patients to inform them of a policy change. Be nice and respectful, but make it clear that this is the practice’s policy and that they will be seen as soon as possible.

4. 10-minute plan. If you routinely have lots of urgent and drop-in patients, leave the last 10 minutes of every hour free with no appointments to accommodate those people.

Most important, clearly explain to all patients that you value their time, whether they have an urgent problem or a scheduled appointment.

Have questions? I’m here to help.

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