A Backwards World. Late Patients, On-time Doctor

It seemed no one was on time. Patient after patient came in late for their scheduled appointments. I wondered how I would keep up and if I should ask the late patients to reschedule. I didn’t ask them to reschedule and I did keep up. Here is how it worked out and what I learned.

The first late patient was arrived over 20 minutes after her scheduled appointment time and had multiple issues she wanted to discuss. She had a 15 minute appointment and 30 minutes worth of problems. Knee pain, back pain, neck pain and headache. I addressed the neck pain and the knee pain and discussed treatment options and briefly discussed the headache. Out of time, I explained that we were starting a process, that I wanted to check an xray and have a physical therapist evaluate her neck, and asked if she would be willing to come back in a week or two to take the next steps. Because I was not at all behind when she arrived I was not too far behind for my next patient, who was 30 minutes late for his new patient physical.

He was so late that I called out to the front office, “Did our 10:15 patient no-show?”

My nurse answered back, “He just got here!” She was in the process of calling the patient back to the exam room. A few seconds later the patient sheepishly appeared behind her, spewing apologies for his tardiness and thanking me for taking him anyway. I wondered how I would manage to do a complete evaluation and still be on time. I didn’t have to worry, for while the patient was being roomed I answered the office phone. It was my 10:45 patient. He was stuck in traffic and running late. He wondered if I would still see him. I knew that he was commuting from 90 minutes away. “Of course I will, but it may be a bit of a wait!” was my reply.

The physical exam didn’t need a full physical exam after all and the visit did not take as long as expected. The patient was so appreciative of the service and care he received that he made up his mind to refer his brother to me for care while he was still in the exam room.

The next late arriving patient came into the office well after his scheduled appointment, but late enough to where I was able to be right on time for my 11:00 appointment. It all worked out.

He was followed by a long standing patient who I had scheduled for an hour long appointment into my lunch hour. He has been cursed with skin that likes to grow skin cancers and he needed so many biopsies that there was no good place to fit him into my normal schedule. I had the staff book the procedure during my lunch hour so I could devote the time needed. When he arrived he asked if we could do fewer biopsies than planned. He wanted to make sure I had time for lunch.

Sure enough, I finished all of my morning charting and was able to have a little over 30 minutes to grab a sandwich at the local café. As I ate my sandwich I thought of how at one time in my career I would have been stressed and angry at patients arriving late and would have demanded that they reschedule. I remembered that I was less happy and content with my practice back then and that my patients weren’t as happy either.

Later that afternoon I fell behind again when a procedure took longer than planned. I was 30 minutes behind when I entered the room of the patient that followed. I handed him a Starbucks gift card as an apology for his wait. He accepted my apology with grace, reminding me that we all need forgiveness at times and that grace and kindness make the world a better place.

-          Bart

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