Pricing is the first step. Punctuality is the next.
On Monday I talked about how to establish patient trust and demonstrate value with consistent pricing, strategic discounts and systems around managing money. These things show your respect for your patient’s investment in their health and your practice.
The next main tenant of professionalism is punctuality. This means so much more than “being on time.” If consistent and professional pricing is how you demonstrate you value your patients’ financial investment, punctuality is how you demonstrate you value their time.
Some practitioners are like me - if you’re 5 minutes late, I’ll probably let it slide. If you’re ten minutes late (or more), that’s how much time you get taken off your session but believe me, you will still pay full price. If you’re half an hour late, you’ll pay the short notice cancellation fee but you probably won’t get the appointment. Do it enough and you’ll get referred out.
On the other end of the spectrum I’ve known practitioners to be late to their own patient’s appointments because they went to go get dinner. They’ll allow their patients to be half an hour late and give them their full time, then run late to their next appointment because they didn’t have the turn over time to accomodate. Or they won’t enforce their late fees or cancellation policies because they’re afraid to lose patients.
There are pros and cons to each approach but here’s how I do things:
You are the gatekeeper of appointment times - You bear the sole responsibility of making sure your patients who do arrive on time can start their appointments on time. So, if for instance, you have your first patient of the day arrive 20 minutes late for a 60 minute massage and you only have a 15 minute turn over time. They can have, max, 35 minutes. Why? Because your next patient is probably going to be on time. They scheduled 60 minutes. They should get 60 minutes and those 60 minutes should start at their scheduled time.
If you lose patients because of this policy, you only lose patients who are consistently late. It’s vital to build clientele that will work well with the way you work. If this kind of philosophy doesn’t work with you, you may need to consider longer turnover times to compensate. There is no reason you can’t accommodate late patients if that’s how you want to roll, but you need to respect every patient’s time equally.
Patients will only respect your time if you respect their time - Consistently being late for your own patient’s appointments shows them you don’t care about their time or schedule. Either they’ll stop coming, or they’ll stop coming on time (which will only exacerbate problems). The way I handle this to know exactly how much time I need between clients and remind myself I’m in charge of the schedule. It is my responsibility to make sure appointments start on time, however that needs to happen.
The thing to keep in mind is that even though we’re healers and we want to do everything in our power for our patients, we need to save some of ourselves for our other patients too. We may not have time to do ALL THE THINGS, so we’ll have to settle for “most of the things” and that’s ok. Do what you can with the time you have because your next patient and all of the ones after them deserve the same quality of care.
Patient communication is a matter of punctuality too - Confession time: I am literally the worst at getting back to patients in a timely manner. I can think of two? three? patients off the top of my head right now I need to get back to (and I swear to God I’ll do it after this article is finished). This is why receptionists and clinic administrators are the most awesome people on the planet. I have lost patients over this. And I deserved to.
I’ve found that if I try to get back to a patient in the same day, I fail. If I do all of my patient communication the next day all at once, I succeed! 24 hours is a completely acceptable amount of time for communications delay. 48 is starts to push it. Doing all of the communication at once gives you the momentum to finish it.
Get back to your patients on time. If you don’t, they will find someone who will.
Everybody hates paperwork - But you have to get it done on time. I’m guilty of this one too. Ever since we switched back from EHR to paper records for massage and acupuncture, it’s been a struggle to make sure it gets done on time. But patients have a right to complete and accurate paperwork and who knows, maybe tomorrow they’ll need a copy of what you did today.
This one is consistently an issue for me so I make sure to do all of my paperwork - all of it - before I leave my office for the day. Otherwise it won’t get done, and if it does, it won’t be as accurate as it would be if it were fresh in your mind. It’s too easy to get distracted by life - do your paperwork ASAP.
Your time has worth too - Let’s face it, asking for your value means asking for people respect your time too. If someone no call no shows, they need to know someone else could have filled that time and you could have been paid for it. Instead, you sit around the clinic waiting for them. Or you could have been marketing, working on paperwork, or one of the 500 other things required to manage a practice.
I do not explicitly tell them that someone else could have been in their spot when I call them to ask if they’re still planning on coming. I do mention it in my late fee and cancellation policy. It’s a bit gauche to mention it every time. Usually people feel guilty enough for missing an appointment. I’m strict, but I don’t want people to feel bad.
Money is energy. Time is energy. Respect your patients’ energy. Put systems around how you manage your energy and your patients’ energy. Demand the same respect. Do this consistently so patients know what they can expect from you and you’ll find you’re surrounded by your ideal patients.
It’s this confidence and consistency the demonstrates your professionalism. Now rock it.
Related links and posts:
4 Simple Way to Build Your Patients' Trust: Pricing
The Starving Artist and the Dirt Poor Healer
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How do you handle late and cancellation policies in your practice?
Jessica Gustafson, L.Ac.
I am an acupuncturist and a mama from the Twin Cities. I needed a place to talk about the nitty gritty of bootstrapping a clinic, parenting and freelancing so I made a blog. Hooray! It was never meant to become what it has, but blogs evolve. I've enjoyed the process and look forward to developing it more as I grow.
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