practice management
Calm waiting room chaos

Is your waiting room a happy place? If you’re honest you’ll likely answer along the lines of “usually, but not always.” Even the most efficiently conceived and executed appointment schedules fall apart — some of them on a daily basis. Planning for patient visits that run longer than anticipated, dealing with walk-ins, and acute care emergencies can leave you feeling harried and your receptionist emotionally unravelled. Here are some ways your colleagues cope.

The right people up front: “My appointment schedule was a disaster,” confesses this Cambridge, ON, family physician in private practice less than five years. “I have mostly elderly patients. I love most of them dearly, but oh my they can be a handful. A 20-minute appointment often stretches to 30, 40 or even 50 minutes. The waiting room piles up and my former receptionist just didn’t have the right temperament for that kind of pressure. She often caught me between patients looking like a deer in the headlights. I wasn’t surprised when she quit but I didn’t know what to do. Then I got lucky. A friend of my daughter was looking for a summer job and I hired her on the spot.

She left last September after only three months but she showed me just the personality type I needed. She was extremely outgoing and friendly with patients but she was firm. When delays occurred she explained why to the entire waiting room, every 10 minutes if necessary, and that was that. Once they understood the cause for the delay, most accepted it. Her replacement is in her late 50s and also an excellent communicator. Her motto: Always explain and no one complains.”

Leave open slots: Not every practice is blessed with the perfect person up front. Another solution to waiting room grumbling is to leave slots open during the day to take care of
potential backups. Many physicians like this method because it can also leave them times when they can do paperwork and other tasks between patients. Others decry the inefficiency.

Hire a nurse practitioner: For a busy practice this is almost certainly the best solution. Most routine cases can be delegated as can many more acute situations. In fact there are few cases in general practice that an experienced NP can’t handle, with you acting as a consultant.

See serious cases at once. Some cases, such as chest pain, must be seen immediately and can, of course, be disruptive. An NP can also be invaluable in a triage, scheduling patients who need the most urgent care first and determining if such patients need to be transferred to an ER.

Move to a “no appointment” system: It takes up to a year to phase in but for more and more practices, it’s the ultimate solution.

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