Recent news out of Australia slammed physicians for instituting late fees for patients who show up more than 10 minutes late to their appointments. Many argue these physicians are implementing a double standard given how far doctors log behind during their appointments. Perhaps this is a double standard but I guarantee one argument you’ll hear from these physicians is the patient’s tardiness contributes to the physician’s tardiness.
I have toyed with the idea of implementing late fees for chronically tardy clients (and we all have them, usually know them by name, and plan accordingly). My practice runs on a busy 15-minute appointment schedule. A client’s 10-minute tardiness can throw off the entire block of appointments. I know a late fee would go over like a lead balloon and so it remains an idea droning in my temples every time a client shows up late on a busy night. It’s my fantasy revenge.
The facts against a late fee remain: Most clients are on-time or early for their appointments. Legitimate excuses happen. You can’t teach common courtesy.
I have found some of the best ways of dealing with tardiness are as follows:
- If owner’s are more than 10 minutes late, have front desk staff politely inform them they will need to wait because the veterinarian is seeing her next appointment. It’s unfair to clients who show up on time to have to wait even longer for their appointment.
- Squash clients who decide to “sneak” that extra pet into their 15-minute appointment. If you simply cannot fit her in without making clients with appointments wait longer, do not do it. If you do have time to look at Little Lucy’s skin condition, use the line “Fortunately I have time to see her tonight without an appointment, but just make sure to have one down the road for when we are booked solid so we make sure to address your needs.” Spin the situation toward looking out for the owner’s best interest and you’ll avoid an awkward moment. You know the saying “If you give a mouse a cookie….” Set the tone for future appointments.
- Veterinarians must practice excellent time management given the frequently unpredictable and sometimes emergency laden appointment schedule. If a two-minute recheck and a sick exam arrive at the same time, see the recheck while the technicians triage the sick patient.
- Apologize and offer a reschedule. Veterinarians run behind, mostly, due to surprise illnesses mentioned at annual examinations, emergencies, and sick patients who require admission. Once we are behind it’s very difficult to catch up and we find ourselves rushing through appointments. Sometimes it’s better to reschedule than make a client sit an hour in the waiting room with a labrador who has chewed through the leash, peed on the wall, and jumped on the counter during the wait.