When a clinic runs behind schedule, waiting times increase and patient satisfaction decreases.  Good communication between nurses, medical assistants, and the provider can mitigate problems before they escalate and avoid patient walkouts before being seen.

Nurses and MA’s Should Monitor Patients and Intervene When There Are Problems

As providers see patients, they are focusing on the patient’s problems and on documenting the visit.  They are usually aware when they are running behind schedule, but not necessarily aware of what is happening in exam rooms or the waiting room.   For example, they might not be aware of a patient that commented to staff that they have to leave soon for another appointment if they are not seen quickly.  They might not know if an add-on was put on the schedule after their current visit, or if there was a no-show after the current visit.   Passing this information on to the provider as they are seeing patients will help the provider adjust to the situation to minimize problems before they escalate and avoid having patients walk out before being seen.

Notify Providers Each Time a Patient is Ready to be Seen

  • Providers do not usually leave their computers on the schedule page. If there are no patients to see, they are usually dealing with InBox messages, or correspondence that requires they be in another patient’s chart.  Do not assume the provider will see the change in status for a patient on the schedule page in a timely fashion.  Even if the provider is watching the schedule page, the status will show the time the nurse first starts documenting vital signs and other details.  It will not necessarily show when the nurse is finished with these preliminary tests, and the patient is ready for the provider.
  • If the provider is in his office, communicate directly when a patient is ready to be seen.
  • If the provider is in a room seeing a patient, develop a communication signal, such as a knock on the door where the doctor is when you are starting to rooming the next patient.  This will give the provider about 5 minutes to wrap up what they are doing and prepare for seeing the next patient while the nurse or MA continues to check in the patient, take vital signs, update medication lists, etc.

For Both Receptionists and Back Office Staff

  •  TLC goes a long way to diffusing upset patients.
  • Advising patients of delays and apologizing for the inconvenience is important.  A patient waiting a long time and hearing no explanation for the wait will generally be unhappy and feel neglected.
  • Continuing to keep patients informed as they wait is also important.  It lets them know they have not been forgotten.
  • Mentioning the availability of coffee, tea and hot chocolate in the waiting room demonstrates concern for the patient’s inconvenience and demonstrates an effort to make their wait more comfortable.
  • When the clinic is running late, notifying patients that have not yet arrived by cell phone and suggesting they arrive at a later time will give them a chance to do other tasks or allow them the ability to continue to work before they leave for the clinic, minimizing any lost wages.