Why Your Private Practice Clients Hate That You’re Late

We’ve all seen the complaints, doctors are always late. Whether it’s because you haven’t arrived in office as yet or your clients are waiting hours beyond their appointment time. Clients hate that their doctors are always late- can you blame them? 


This stereotype of doctors never being on time to see their private clients is sometimes both true and unfortunate. And while having to clear at least half the day or entire day to see a doctor is the “norm” it doesn’t mean it isn’t inconvenient, annoying and to be honest- unnecessary. With many options out there for general practitioners and specialists, clients may opt to shop around and find the doctor that fits most or all their needs. You don’t want the wait time to be a reason why you lose clients when it’s an easy fix! 


Here are some of my tips to improve wait times and improve client satisfaction in private practice.


Be On Time


Hear me out, a big part is having to actually wait for your doctor to arrive. It has happened numerous times. You have a 9 am appointment you reach at 8:55am and your doctor hasn’t yet arrived. Though you’re not the one scheduling your appointments, you are aware of what time your first appointment starts, so why not just get there in time? 


For those that may work multiple places it might be easier to simply set a more realistic time. If you schedule appointments for 1 pm but consistently get to work at 2pm it might be more valuable to simply start taking appointments at 2 pm instead of 1 pm. 

Reevaluate Your Appointment Book 


For persons who book appointments you have to be honest with yourself about how long a consultation lasts and how much time is spent in-between patients to finish notes, sanitise and clean up. If that total time generally takes about 30 – 45 minutes you can’t be booking multiple 15- 20 minute consultations.


I actually remember going to a doctor’s appointment at a private clinic about 5 minutes before my appointment time and was told by the registration clerk that I was to arrive about 30 minutes before my appointment time (I don’t remember to exact time they gave) or I could lose my appointment. I apologised got whatever I needed and waited about an hour or two (maybe more to be honest) to be seen by the doctor.

I suppose the fear is that you’ll see less clients and private practice relies a lot on volume and procedures but there has to be balance. Clients who feel that their time is respected and that they can make an appointment and actually be seen at that time are more likely to be return clients and recommend you to others. 


Set Realistic Expectations 


Tell your clients how long they have for the appointment. Many patients when they’re seeing the doctor aren’t actually aware how much time they’ve booked with the doctor. Simply stating the expected duration of the interview can help with the flow of the interview and avoid clients feeling rushed, not listened to or not getting a bang for their money. 

This can be done at multiple stages, at the time they book the appointment and again when they enter. This system can even be further streamlined based on services or the amount of time they want to spend with you. If a client has 10 complaints maybe they need to book (and pay for) two slots, if they’re having a procedure or a more extensive interview/ examination ensure that time is accounted for and communicated.


Have A Specific Time And Policy For Walk-ins


A lot of private practices rely on walk-ins, how you approach walk- ins is dependent on your actual practice. You could have a broad brush policy of only taking walk-ins after 1 pm or you could see walk-ins through out the day and fit them into appointment slots that were previously unfilled. Again taking into consideration the points made above so that persons with appointments don’t feel short changed. However you decide to approach this, it must be communicated to walk-ins so that before hand they know the expected wait time.




Another story, I remember being very sick and going to a local general practitioner’s office almost as soon as it opened. When I arrived the office already had a good number of persons there. After about an hour of waiting the clients started to become restless and started to wonder why nothing had started yet. Unfortunately it was only after persons started to complain did the secretary relay the information that the doctor had what ever issues and was going to arrive at whatever time. Here’s the thing, you know when you’re going to be late. It doesn’t take much to call ahead and have your clients know how late you’re going to be. Everyone is late sometimes, but it’s the lack of communication that’s the problem. It makes persons feel unvalued and can negatively affect your client satisfaction. 


Don’t Be Afraid To Apologise 


You have no idea how far a “Sorry for the wait” or “Sorry for being late” can go for your clients. It reenforces that you value their business and their time. Take the extra 10 seconds to apologise!


Have A Late Policy 


Sometimes, wait times can be extended because of other clients’ lateness. And having a clear late policy can help improve this. 


Let me share another story. Recently I was stuck in heavy traffic on the way to an appointment, I called ahead and said I would be late… and when I mean late I mean over half an hour late (the traffic was rough). When I arrived for my appointment I had to wait, my appointment time was gone and I simply waited until I could have been facilitated, another option would have been to reschedule. 


So here are my suggestions for a late policy, encourage your clients to call if they’ll be late and by how much. Be honest with clients when they’re late, say that they won’t be able to have as much time or not all of the services will be completed during the appointment or simply offer to reschedule the appointment. 


Consider having a policy if x amount of time has elapsed and the client hasn’t arrived you move on to the next client. And yes I have been seen earlier than my actual appointment since I have a habit of arriving early or calling ahead if I’m late- even though “doctors are usually late”. 


For me, I value timeliness, because I value my time. I want to be able to accomplish multiple things during the day even if I have a doctor’s appointment so I simply choose health care providers who stay true more or less to their appointment times. 



I hope this helps! I’ve seen countless complaints about how long it takes to see the doctor, customer service and customer satisfaction are a big part of customer retention and running a private practice is in fact a business! 


What are some other tips you think would help? 


Samantha C. Johnson

Btw! I can’t claim all the credit for this article- the idea and a lot of the tips came from a conversation I had with my senior colleague and friend Paediatric Surgeon Dr. Carolyn Jackson (thanks!).

I didn’t make reference to how public healthcare spills over into private practice though-  maybe another day. 

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