A few ways to tackle patient tardiness head-on

Every medical practice has them -- the chronic latecomers and the consistently inconsistent. They are the patients who try your patience by testing the limits of your schedule and asking to be "squeezed in" after arriving a half-hour past the appointed time. Do you know how best to handle them? Or how to keep their perennial tardiness from muddling your schedule and pushing other patients’ appointments back? Here are some tips straight from medical offices themselves.

1. Set a Time Trap

Ever set your clock 10 minutes fast to fool yourself into getting out the door on time in the morning? A similar tactic can work when addressing patients who run behind every time. I know of one medical office that usually writes the patient’s appointment time 30 minutes to an hour earlier [on their appointment card] than what they have in the book. You may not be teaching these latecomers to change their ways, but this is an easy and often effective way to guard your schedule from backups.

2. Send Them to the Waiting Room

In school, we were taught that those who cut in line are sent back to the end. So it goes for patients who don’t keep their place in line by turning up on time - So make them wait. I know of one medical office that if a patient had a 3:00 and didn’t show up until 3:30, they usually had to wait until the last patient was seen (at 4:30) before they would see them. Everybody else who showed up on time should not be punished because of someone else. If patients cannot or do not want to wait, allow them to reschedule. But tell them if they are late again, the same thing will happen.

3. Say ‘No Go’ to the Late Show

Sometimes, you just have to draw the line. Every office will have a different threshold, but it’s a good practice to set an appropriate time limit. If a patient arrives beyond that limit, he cannot be seen.-But be sure to check with your practice manager first before refusing a patient service.

On office no-shows patients after they are 20 minutes late, and they are not seen if they show up after that 120-minute period.

Remember to inform patients of your tardiness policy -- whatever it is -- when they call to make their appointments. Even the knowledge that there is such a policy can help cut down on lateness. And for those who just can’t keep time no matter what, you have a firm set of guidelines to deal with the tardy factor each and every time.

Have questions? I’m here to help.

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