Dear Hanna Mae
BY HANNA MAE GUMMENT (AKA SUE CONNELLY, FCLSA, AND URSULA LOTZKAT)
It's me again, Hanna Mae Gumment. I had the pleasure of visiting with you in a recent Contact Lens Spectrum supplement dedicated to various areas of staff training (The ABCs of Soft Contact September 2003). Well, don't
Soft Contact Lens Patient Management, September 2003). Well, reader response resulted in a deluge of mail (okay, two letters, but we were mighty excited nonetheless). So, I am pleased as punch to be writing this column to answer some of your burning questions in the human management areas of your practice.
Dear Hanna Mae, our doctor is always running late, especially with contact lens patients. Unfortunately, I'm the one who the patients stare down at the front desk and I'm at the point where I avoid eye contact. What am I supposed to do? In the Hot Seat*
Dear Hot Seat, unfortunately, this is a fairly common occurrence in professional offices. But that doesn't make it right. When you know a patient will have to wait, your instinct might be to tell a little white lie such as, "the doctor will be right with you."
Instead, be honest and up front, and give the patient a realistic estimate of the wait time. Offer to reschedule him if the wait is unacceptable (but get him in again lickety split!). Then, apologize for the wait (yes, apologize). Now don't get in a dither, I'm not saying it's your fault. I'm saying that because you represent the practice, you need to take the first steps in smoothing the patient's ruffled feathers. And an apology is where that starts.
Instead of feeling the patient's eyes boring into the top of your skull as you hide your face, maintain good eye contact and make sure he's aware that you know he's still waiting. Keep tabs on the doctor's schedule and let the patient know what's going on, especially if something has chan-ged. If you show respect for a patient's time, then you will get respect in return.
But, just like pesky weeds, the problem will keep cropping up if you don't get to its root. If the doctor consistently runs behind schedule, perhaps there's a problem with the schedule. Keep track of wait times for every patient during a week or two. If wait times are unacceptable, work together with the doctor and technical staff to make appointment times better tailored for the office needs. Ask team members if they'd be happy waiting that same amount of time for an appointment. If you find wait times to be acceptable, know that all patients may not agree.
But, remember that the front desk staff plays a mighty important role in helping things run smoothly. Gather as much information as you can from the patient at the time of the phone call so you can schedule him appropriately (scheduling a keratoconus patient with a problem into a slot for a routine contact lens follow up is just asking for trouble). If you want to turn your waiting room into a reception area, be honest, apologetic, respectful and get to the root of the problem.
Dear Hanna Mae, I always get my contact lens work done quickly and then others ask me to help out in other areas of the office. Is this fair? Over Worked*
Dear Over Worked, you poor thing! Work slower and pace yourself so other team members don't take advantage you. Kidding! Don't get your undies in a bunch. As long as you're paid by the hour and not by the task, you should focus on doing the best you can on any and all of the tasks given to you. If others ask you to help out in other areas, consider it an opportunity to expand your job skills, put your best foot forward, positively impact patients and simply feel good about yourself.
*Please submit your human management questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hanna Mae Gumment became a recognized expert in wait management with a series of pamphlets titled "From Waiting to Winning." She took this same positive approach and became an expert in weight management with the self-help book "From Weighting to Thinning." Hanna Mae Gumment is a character of Wink Productions, Inc.