"How much longer is she/he going to be?"

Nov. 25, 2013
She stares you down at the front desk, makes sure you are looking as she moves her head downward with a jerk to look at her watch and back up at you before she loses the opportunity for eye contact.

BY JoAn Majors

She stares you down at the front desk, makes sure you are looking as she moves her head downward with a jerk to look at her watch and back up at you before she loses the opportunity for eye contact. She then rolls her eyes, stands slowly, and moves like a predator toward the front desk and asks, "How much longer is he [or she] going to be?"

Have you been in this uncomfortable position in the practice? It does not matter if the patient says it with his or her body language or in an audible voice. We know the telltale signs. Since 93% of all communication is nonverbal, shouldn't we try to prevent the patient's actual complaint at the front desk in front of other patients?

Wouldn't it be better to give him or her information rather than defending the behavior we know happens in a practice with certain providers? I think so.

Before we move too far along, I do believe there are ways or systems to change the behavior. I also know that after more than 30 years in dentistry – monkeying with a lot of schedules, trying to fake a doctor out with the time we tell the patient versus the time we tell the doctor – for some, it just does not work.

Dentists are going to take the time they have. There are times when doctors or providers are just not going to change their behavior. Let me discuss a couple of options for responses in these times.

Most of us who pay for medical or dental services can understand that someone will occasionally run behind in the office for various reasons. Most of us also understand that if someone just acknowledged and valued our time, it would not seem so bad.

The difficulty comes when no one says anything to address this sign of disrespect. It is as if you are waiting on a Disneyland ride. Watching for body cues and acknowledging the delay prior to complaints turns excuses into information.

You are advising the valued patient of what is going on without his or her asking, complaining, or making everyone in the reception room uncomfortable. Let me offer a couple of pearls to use in this instance.

First, if you or the administrative team sees a patient getting antsy, it is best to ask a clinical person for help. Share with the assistant that the patient is looking concerned and those concerns need to be addressed. Everyone on the team knows the drill, so anyone can do this.

The assistant goes out to the reception room, right up to the waiting patient, and says, "Hello. I wanted to come out and tell you that Dr. Time Lee had an interruption in his schedule this morning and is working hard to catch up for you. He wanted me to come let you know that he will be with you as soon as possible."

Notice, I said that "he" wanted to let the patient know. It is even better if you add a personal pearl, such as this: " … and he can hardly wait to hear about your grandson's graduation." The doctor has the most power in the practice. Use this knowledge every time you can.

Second, if it is a new patient, it is better to share up front about the time issue. It will keep you from the bad habit of overpromising and underdelivering.

Remember, information is preferable to excuses. Ask the new patient, "Have you met Dr. Time Lee before?" Most will say no. "Well, let me tell you the good news and the bad news. The bad news is that occasionally a patient may have a short wait. The great news is it is often because Dr. Lee is a great communicator who would never rush a patient in need of information. He will take the same time considerations with you. Does this make sense?" Most patients will respond with something like "Great. My last doctor was always so rushed."

Set the doctor up for success and you cannot go wrong. Keep it honest. Just tell the truth in its most favorable light. See you on the road!

JoAn Majors is a professional speaker, published author and RDA. She is the program creator of The Million Dollar Manager and The Significant Spouse workshops. To have her speak to your group or learn more go to: www.joanmajors.com or call (866)51-CHOICE.

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