Getting Your Schedule Under Control

By: Susan Hoy

“Our schedule is out of control! We have patients coming late, coming early, walking in, and not showing up at all. How do we begin to solve this problem?” 

Whenever I present a scheduling seminar, I get many questions like this one. Often, when I go to an office to help them get organized, I witness the results of an out-of-control schedule. In order to help a practice get their schedule under control, one must first understand where the problem is coming from.

There are so many ways for your schedule to get out of control. First, the Chiropractor may be afraid that keeping a firm schedule will lead to patients dropping out. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that not keeping a firm schedule will lead to patients dropping out. Every time our schedule gets out of control in our office, our daily visits stats go down! Who, these days, can afford the time to wait unnecessarily?

Another possibility is that the scheduling CA is afraid to control and keep a firm schedule, fearing patient conflict. The scheduling CA must learn proper scripting to diplomatically handle patients who are late, walk in, or miss their appointment—or else the schedule will be compromised. Patient conflicts are inevitable in the early stages of getting your schedule under control, however. Additionally, the scheduling CA must know proper scripting in order to encourage patients to make their next appointment, or the possibility of a patient tracking problem could result.

Is it possible that your schedule is out of control because you do not schedule appointments according to the Chiropractor’s adjustment time, and therefore, always run behind? Your patients will not respect your schedule if you don’t respect theirs!

So, in order to begin solving your scheduling problems, you must first look at what is causing the problem in the first place. Have a team meeting and discuss the possibilities. Everyone has to become involved in the process.

The first thing a team must do, in order to get the schedule straightened out, is to agree on the process. If the front desk is doing what it needs to do to create a firmer schedule, the Chiropractor must allow them to do so. In other words, the Chiropractor should not contradict the front desk scheduler in front of the patient or override a decision, when the decision was made in compliance with the plan. To do so would disempower the scheduler. In fact, the best thing would be for the Chiropractor to stay out of the scheduling except in planning and implementing the system. Problems should be worked out in team meetings on an ongoing basis, never in the presence of a patient.

When a team makes the decision to get the schedule under control, the patients must be notified. I believe the first thing is for the Chiropractor to let the patients know that a change will be taking place. The script must make it clear to the patient that the changes are for their convenience and will help you serve them better. Here is an example of a script: Our office is taking steps to get our scheduling under control in order to serve you more efficiently and expediently. May I ask that you help us by making your appointment before you leave and arriving on time for your scheduled appointment. In turn, our staff will endeavor to keep needless waiting to a minimum. We can’t do it without your help. The patient will immediately know that the Chiropractor is supporting the change.

A notice should be also posted at the front desk: Please help us help you! Effective immediately, we are asking all patients to make advance appointments whenever possible and to arrive on time for their scheduled appointments. If you are unable to arrive on time, please let our office know as soon as possible so that we can give you the best service possible. Additionally, if you are in need of an appointment immediately, contact our office to ascertain the best time to come in. We are committed to giving you the best possible care as efficiently and expediently as possible. Thank you for your co-operation.

Of course, any new patients who commit to care should be given a patient information sheet letting them know the best way to manage their Chiropractic care and appointments in your office. How will they know what to do if you don’t tell them?

The script for your front desk scheduler should use is: “Dr. Smith has indicated that you will need to schedule three appointments this week. Let’s get them scheduled so you can get the appointment that is most convenient for you.” Or, if the patient isn’t sure of his schedule: “Dr. Smith has indicated that you will need to come in on Tuesday. Let’s go ahead and get you on the schedule. I’ll give you an appointment card and if the appointment is not convenient, just give me a call. We’ll be happy to change it for you.” You must be confident and positive, not forceful but assertive.

Do not be afraid to keep patients waiting if they are late for their appointment. Always communicate, however! “Mrs. Miller, we had you in our book for 2:00. If you’ll just be seated, we’ll get you in as soon as possible.” Don’t forget, you could have made a mistake, so don’t be too firm with the patient. Give them the opportunity to do an errand and come back. Make it as convenient as possible without letting the patient just walk in whenever they want. If you allow walk-in appointments, consider having certain times in the day for walk-ins to keep the patients, who have appointments, from waiting unnecessarily.

If patients continually miss appointments, you should consider the penalty for doing so. Certainly there are times when patients will forget an appointment and we should be somewhat lenient; but if this is a ongoing problem, it is time to confront the issue.

Finally, if your patients don’t respect your schedule, because you don’t respect theirs… then you deserve the stress you are receiving! In other words, if you are scheduling patients every ten minutes, then be sure your Chiropractor is spending only ten minutes with the patient and not wasting time talking about issues unrelated to Chiropractic. You must keep a realistic schedule. The best practice tool to help you achieve this is the pacesetter. The pacesetter is a quietly vibrating timer which the Chiropractor sets to the optimal treatment time so that he/she does not lose track of precious time. It will pay great dividends in getting your schedule under control.

The bottom line is that you teach your patients how to treat you. It is human nature for each of us to want to get our own way, and you will be tested by your patients continually. When your schedule is out of control, no one has a good experience in your office—not your patients, not your Chiropractor, and certainly not the staff. Once they know that you keep a firm schedule, they not only will be on time for appointments, but they will respect you for it. Your practice will thrive and you will be eliminating stress for everyone.

About the Author

Susan Hoy has been a Chiropractic office manager since 1989 and fully understands the complexity of practicing in today’s healthcare environment. As a speaker and consultant, Susan travels throughout the country, helping Chiropractic teams become more organized, systemized, and energized!