How to manage your appointment book

Odoo • Image and Text

One way of handling the appointment book is to appease every wish and just offer the next slot available.

Here is an example:

Tring Tring – “Sparkle Optometrists – Sally speaking”
Px; “I would like to have my eyes tested.”
Sally; “ We are not busy, what time would you like to come in this morning?” ugh!

This opens up the assumption; if they are not busy, they can’t be good! The Eye Care Professional that is busy must be good and this will translate to word of mouth in the neighbourhood. That is the impression the front desk must create. So, here is a better dialogue:

Sally: “ Sparkle optometrist, Sally speaking.”
Patient: “ I would like to have my eyes tested.“
Sally: “We are fully booked till next week, but tell me what your need is and I will see what we can do for you.”

This is the way to go, even if the appointment book is empty the whole morning! To boot, the patient will appreciate being “helped out”! If the patient is responding to a recall and wants a check-up, next week will probably suffice as opposed to broken specs or sudden onset of a visual problem. Before a time slot is offered, find out first exactly what the patient’s real need is. This way you can create the impression that you are busy even if you’re not and moreover, you can create an open block for the optometrist to do some productive work outside of the consulting room. If your optometrist ends up with thirty patients for the six day week, it would be much better to book him 6 patients per day for 5 days and have one day clear, than having all thirty patients scattered across all six days in the appointment book, basically tying him down.

Always keep the first slot in the morning open until the very last, so that you have a solution for an urgent appointment. Never turn anybody away because you are fully booked. If need be, see the patient outside the regular office hours. Making this sacrifice to help one patient could well result in getting a family on board plus word of mouth to attract new patients from the catchment area.

Every telephone enquiry you get must be converted into an appointment, by saying this: “Would you like a morning or an afternoon appointment?” This is a forced choice question which will work for you either way, because you don’t care, as long as you get the appointment down. If you say: Would you like an appointment?” – the answer may well be: “no thank you.”

No-shows present a problem in every practice. It should be standard procedure to remind patients of the appointment the day before. No-shows should be called no later than the next day to re-schedule.           

In a busy practice, appointments may be scheduled for thirty minutes but then the optometrist should have all the support from ancillary staff to ensure effective patient flow. However, in a not so busy practice, it would be better to start with sixty minute appointments until the book is full for a week ahead and then consider forty-five minute slots. During the building stage of a practice, it would be wise to invest more time with each patient to lay the foundation for a long-term relationship. Not all patients will require the same amount of time to take care of their visual needs. For this reason it is important to establish the patient’s need by asking the right questions upfront before the appointment is made. It would be smart to have different length time slots set up in the appointment book.

Managing the appointment book extends naturally into managing the patient in the waiting room until he or she is in the optometrist’s chair. Running late is a perpetual evil in medical practices. Many medical officers become de-sensitised to the fact that they keep people waiting and consider it a right. Apart from being down right rude, how can you abuse the very people responsible for your life style? There are often factors beyond control that result in running late. The answer lies in communicating with the waiting patient. Most people will understand if they are informed what the situation is. Why is the optometrist running late and how long before being seen? The level of irritation is elevated when the patient has no idea what is happening. Sometimes patients may prefer to come back another time and it is therefore a good idea to offer an alternative. A last point on managing the waiting room, is keeping the optometrist informed of who is waiting and what are they there for: examination, collection, adjustment or follow-up contact lens check and so on. This lends itself to better patient flow management.

The main factor that determines how to manage the appointment book is by determining the patients’ real needs. Once you know exactly what they want and what their expectations are, it becomes much easier to manage the appointment book effectively. An effectively run appointment book will translate into better productivity and patient relations.