How to Stay On Time


By: Susan Hoy, CA

Time rules us. Time is probably the most frequently used word in our office. We continually use phrases like:

            “What time would you prefer?”

            “What time is your appointment?”

            “What time did he arrive?”

            “What time do you need to leave?”

            “Was the patient on time?”

The most important phrase in our office, however, is: “Is the doctor on time?”

The Problem

I would like to share with you a problem that has plagued our office since the beginning of “time.” I suspect that we all have the same problem with time. Patients are always looking at their watches. These days, most everyone is in a hurry. We pack our schedules beyond control and live by the clock. Whether your practice is full of busy corporate professionals—like our office—or farmers, we all value our time.

The problem that we were having is that our doctor had little or no concept of time. On a busy day, or even on a not-so-busy day, he would spend unproductive time with his patients. In fact, it was worse on a “not-so-busy” day, when he would see his opportunity to spend extra time with patients. It was creating lots of stress for our staff and our patients.

Unfortunately, he never realized how much time he was spending. Since he can’t adjust with his watch on, he had to depend on his staff to let him know when he was running behind schedule. When we would tell him how long he had spent with a patient, he would literally not believe us—usually citing a reason why we were at fault, not him. Needless to say, this was quite frustrating for our staff, to the point that resentment would build up. Pent-up resentment is a very negative thing, and negativity is not something we want in our practice.

Now don’t get me wrong, when our doctor needs to spend time with a patient, because the patient needs his help, we certainly don’t resent that. But, when we are running behind schedule and the doctor is talking about his children, we get hot under the collar… and so do our patients! Ultimately, we take the abuse, not the doctor. From personal experience, when we keep our patients waiting too long, our patients begin to dwindle.

I know this is a profession-wide problem. I recently spoke to an exasperated CA who explained that her doctor wants patients scheduled two every 15 minutes; however, the doctor spends at least on half hour with each patient. Now that is a horrendous problem, especially for the staff.

The Solution

I am very excited to tell you that we have solved this problem, and I am eager to share the solution with you. I was consulting with a Chiropractic office in our area when the doctor pulled a little gadget out of his pocket. “Does your doctor have this, Susan? It’s a timer, and if I don’t have this in my pocket while treating my patients, I always get behind.” My ears perked up! He went on to explain that the timer can be set to vibrate quietly when a certain time period is up. You can set the timer to go off at three different intervals, as a warning that you are spending too much time. The timer counts down, vibrates, and then counts up. So if the timer is set to go off at ten minutes, with a vibration warning at seven minutes, at the end of ten minutes, it begins counting up. Thus, when the doctor emerges from the room, if it says plus ten minutes, that doctor knows that he has spent twenty minutes with the patients. It allows for no excuses.

I immediately bought two timers, one for each of our doctors. I didn’t even care if I had to pay for them myself. If this would eliminate frustrations with our staff, and ultimately our patients, it would be the best investment I had ever made. It would even allow us to help more people!

The timers arrived and I showed them to our doctors. Dr. Snyman was very enthusiastic. Being the open-minded doctor that he is, he could see how this would help us get through a busy day and help him keep track of time. Besides, he loves gadgets.

The timer was a hit right away. Dr. Snyman began challenging himself to treat the patient in the allotted amount of time. Now, that doesn’t mean he short-changes his patients; it just means that he keeps to Chiropractic! No longer do we hear him discussing his children or getting off the subject with his patients. He focuses on the problem the patient is having, gives the proper treatment, and moves on.

I have recommended the use of the timer for Chiropractors who are building a practice, too. Even though they do not have a reception room full of patients, they must prepare themselves and their patients for when they do. The Chiropractor must decide how much time it takes to treat a patient and then be consistent with that time. If the patients get used to a doctor spending lots of time because he has lots of time, when the doctor gets busy, the patients will feel short-changed. It is extremely important to spend approximately the same amount of time with each patient, whether you are helping twenty a day or one hundred and twenty!

These days, when Dr. Snyman spends a lot of time with a patient, I simply ask him, “What does your timer say?” He looks at it, gets a guilty look on his face and says, “Too long!” Our staff only gets blamed when it is actually our fault.

Our staff is happier, our patients are happier, and Dr. Snyman is staying to the subject of Chiropractic and having fun, too. The truth is, I would have spent twice as much for that timer, considering the results it has given us. I know several offices that are giving this timer to their doctors as a gift. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.