Perfect appointment scheduling. Why you need to watch the clock.

“How long should my clinic appointment times be?”

I was recently asked this question by a colleague who had just started working in Private Practice.

If you’re not an osteopath, chances are, your experience of clinic timings will have been ‘conditioned’ by your NHS upbringing. I would go as far as to say, that some clinicians verge on being ‘NHS-institutionalised’ in terms of how they run their Private Practice timetabling.

And it really doesn’t have to be this way.

The best thing about your Private Practice, is that you get to choose.

You can choose who you see, where you work (within reason), and how you should run your clinics. It needn’t be a cookie cutter version of your NHS life.

Now you might be thinking…

“Surely it’s about seeing more patients in clinic, and seeing more patients becomes possible with shorter appointment times”.

To that, I would say… ‘yes’, and also ‘no’.

Whilst it’s true that if you’ve set yourself a fixed time slot (e.g. between 6 pm and 8 pm) , you can probably cram in a few more folk if you see them for just fifteen minutes at a time, in reality what actually happens is very different. That time slot spills over. Really short appointment time slots often tend to overrun. There’s very little margin for late or delayed patients and it’s really hard to get all that admin done and dusted before the next patient enters the clinic room. This makes it all getting a wee bit stressful.

Many clinicians who ram the patients in, end up having to hang around at the end of clinic to take care of those letters or dragging the admin home, reluctantly. I prefer to leave clinic when I say I’m leaving. At five. I can do this cleanly because I’m honest about how long seeing my patients takes.

When you’re starting out in Private Practice, it’s sometimes a bit of a shock to find that patients like ‘hanging out’ in clinic with you. (You may be too busy trying to get them out of the room to notice).

Patients have a funny habit of asking many questions like “what’s all that white stuff on the MRI Scan?” One or two will inevitably bring out a piece of paper which is ceremoniously unfolded to reveal a long list of questions, that their mother (also a doctor) wants answering.

One of the things that patients get most irked about, is feeling rushed and not listened to. They (quite rightly) want value for money, and may feel a little bit ‘conned’ at forking out £275 for eight minutes of your time. Patients need a little ‘face time’ to feel it’s been money well spent. (Even though, you and I know you can actually get the job done in a really short space of time, if only they didn’t chat so much).

So, the burning question…

“How long should an appointment be?”

The answer:

As long as it needs to be.

The longer you stay in Private Practice, the better the feeling you’ll get for what the truth is, in terms of an appointment timings for your particular practice.

I’ve been in full time Private Practice for well over a decade now, and I would say it’s probably a mistake to have appointments that are less than thirty minutes for a new patient, and less than twenty minutes for a follow-up.

Many of you might be chuckling at the idea of this – “I can do a perfectly good job of seeing a patient in fifteen minutes”. I’m sure that on paper you can, but nurses, receptionists, and outpatient departments may tell a different story. Ask them how many of your patients in the last week have been kept waiting, or got the hump having been told that you’re “running around forty-five minutes late”.

I’ve even witnessed a patient remarking that they’d “also like to get into the office at some point today, please”.

Having a bit of slack in your system means that you can dictate that clinic letter there and then, or have two minutes to ring that radiologist.

If a patient is five minutes late, you can suck it up, and you can even find time to have a swig of tea or a Jimmy (riddle). Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Being fed and watered gives us endurance to keep smiling until the end of the day, and you’ll manage to see those extra patients, even if clinic’s a bit more stretched out. Your patients will be happier, and guess what? You may even come to enjoy Private Practice.

Which is what it’s all about anyway, isn’t it?


If you need help figuring out what works best in terms of clinic structure, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your appointment schedule. Please do not hesitate to contact us here…

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