Crackdown on patient punctuality to keep your office on schedule

It's ironic, but a leading cause of patient complaints--long wait times--is often due to their own tardiness, according to a study published in BMJ Open.

"All it takes is one patient to come late, and then everybody else is pushed later, regardless of their ability to be there on time," Kayode Williams, M.D., the lead author of the study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Reuters Health.

The study also found that getting stricter about patient punctuality went a long way toward resolving the problem. At the Baltimore pain clinic studied, a policy implemented in June 2008 called for patients who arrived late to appointments to reschedule. The team then measured changes in patient punctuality one, six and 12 months after the policy began.

Patients were twice as likely to arrive at least 15 minutes early for their appointments under the new policy. Prior to the study, nearly 8 percent of patients arrived at least one minute late, a figure that dropped to 1.5 percent by the end of the study. Meanwhile, the likelihood that the healthcare team would complete its scheduled clinic in the allotted four-hour time slot rose from 38 percent to 51 percent.

At first, the practice feared patients would complain about the inconvenience of rescheduling, Williams said. But when employees explained to tardy patients that if they didn't come back that others would have to wait, "all were gracious enough to say they would be rescheduled," Williams said. And ultimately, patients simply changed their habits to arrive on time.

"The fundamental problem [when lateness is tolerated] is that both sides have expectations that things will be bad; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Chester Chambers from The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore, who also worked on the study, told Reuters. "But if both sides believe it can be better, it can."

To learn more:
- read the article
- see the study