Perhaps you have heard this saying or something similar. The actual saying is, "If you build it, he will come," and it is from the Academy Award-nominated movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner.
Well, now I am the voice in your head telling you to "have a plan for new patients, and they will come." Here are three action steps you can take to develop that plan.
Action Step #1
Have specific times set aside in your schedule for new patients. It is recommended that there be one time slot set aside per shift per doctor. This time slot should be at times other than the times your established patients prefer. To determine these times, look back at your previous two-week schedule; you should be able to clearly see when the majority of your established patients like to be seen. In most of the offices I have worked, I have seen large openings mid-morning, around the lunch hour, and in the early to mid-afternoon. Therefore, these gaps make ideal new-patient times.
Remember that the time the new patient's name appears in the schedule is the time they will be seeing the doctor, but in reality they have an appointment to do paperwork with the front desk or new-patient advocate approximately 15 minutes before that time. Using proper scripts and scheduling procedures is critical. When offering the new patient a choice of appointment times, remember to tell them it is the time you expect to see them at the front desk to do their paperwork.
For example, if they will be seeing the doctor at 10 a.m., you would offer them an appointment at 9:45. Whatever you do, don't tell them you have an opening at 10:00 and after getting all the information you need from them (name, phone number, who referred them, if their condition was related to an accident, etc.), ask them that they arrive at least 15 minutes early to complete paperwork.
If the new patient wants to come in at times other than the times you have set aside, explain to them that "the doctor has set aside special times so you will have quality, uninterrupted time with them, so it would be better for you to come in at the suggested time." Sherry Hodge states in her book Scripts for Success: "If the potential patient still insists that he wants to come in later, ask, 'Is this an emergency? How long have you been in pain?'"
She goes on to say, "Generally, an emergency is anyone who has been in pain 48 hours or less. You should have emergency times pre-planned. The number one best emergency time is the lunch hour. Number two best emergency time is after hours. If it is determined that this is an emergency, try to get them scheduled in either of these times. Have them arrive 30 minutes prior to the time the doctor will be finishing up with established patients so that you will not end up waiting for the 'emergency.' Do your best to keep that established patient time for only established patients."
If you don't fill this time slot with a new patient, do not fill it with established patients. If for some reason this slot is not filled with a new patient, the doctor can use this time to write reports, return phone calls, have a team meeting or deal with any other business to which they need to attend.
Action Step #2
Have a vision of who your ideal patients are. At your next team meeting, put together a list of ideal patient characteristics. Have this list next to every phone in the office and visualize every caller being your ideal patient. Here is an example from an office I worked in: Our ideal patient kept to the schedule recommended by the doctor, called to reschedule appointments when they were unable to keep a scheduled appointment, referred great new patients, was on time for appointments (if not early), paid all their bills on time per the office financial policy, and if needed, kept all special financial arrangements, brought us all required paperwork when requested, and was committed to wellness care.
Action Step #3
Have new-patient file folders pre-made for each financial category you would like to have in your office. In other words, if you want primarily cash patients, have lots of pre-made cash folders. If you don't want any work-related injury patients, don't make any of these folders. Here are some other key things to consider:
- You should have all the paperwork you will need during the first two or three visits in the file folders in the order it will be used.
- Each file folder should have a "New-Patient Checklist" stapled to the front of the file folder that will remain on the file folder until all the required forms and procedures are completed. Once everything is completed, you can remove the checklist and file it in the patient's file.
- There should be one person in the office whose job description includes being sure that you have a minimum of 10 new-patient file folders for each financial category prepared and ready to go at the beginning of each week.
- Until the checklist is completed, all incomplete file folders should be kept at the front desk and all CAs should be checking the schedule prior to their shift to determine if any of these patients have appointments. If they do, they should do their best to complete any of the incomplete items.
Dr. James W. Parker taught that we must have faith, confidence, and belief in our product, service, and ideas. In "Field of Dreams," that is exactly what Kevin Costner's character did. He had faith, confidence, and the belief that it would happen, and so it must be with you. Have a vision, create a space for it, and be prepared to have many new patients.
If you would like a sample of a checklist or a list of what your new-patient folder might contain, e-mail Lisa your request at with "NPF" in the subject box.
Click here for previous articles by Lisa Bilodeau, CA.