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After 45 minutes, I nearly lost it. Here's how to avoid making patients wait.

Aug. 12, 2021
A long wait at a medical office changed this dental office administrator's impression of the entire practice. She has some tips to help your dental office avoid this mistake.

There is an epidemic running rampant in dental and medical practices through the country. It’s called “running behind,” and it’s very detrimental to your practice. This simple component of practice management can have a profound effect on your patients, your employees, your stress level, and your profitability.

I didn’t know that I was a “Karen” until I had an eye-opening experience with a medical office recently. I scheduled an appointment with them in advance and checked in with the front desk 10 minutes early with paperwork complete. After 45 minutes of waiting with no apology or explanation, I was highly agitated to say the least. I calmy asked the front desk coordinator if they were running behind, and she acted as though she was unaware that I was waiting. At this point, my blood started boiling. Fortunately, I made it out without making a scene, but my opinion of their level of care was strikingly degraded. The indifference displayed by the front office staff made it clear that this is just the way they operate day to day. Their desire to increase production by cramming more patients into the schedule than they can comfortably see drowns their ability to provide consideration for their patients’ time.

Nobody makes time to wait

Timeliness is an important skill. When you schedule an appointment, you expect the other party to be on time. Making someone wait on you is extremely disrespectful. Everyone’s time is valuable, and when you are running late to a meeting or an appointment, you’re wasting someone else’s resource.

The same concept applies when you’re providing medical or dental care. Scheduling is an art of efficiency. Your schedule should not be a cookie-cutter model of someone else’s ideals, but a representation of how your practice operates most efficiently. Of course, you will have emergencies and complications that throw a wrench into your day every now and then, but those days should be anomalies, not the standard.

Proper scheduling

Knowing how long it takes your doctor to perform every procedure is a must when creating a productive schedule. Procedure time studies are an easy way to get that information. Dental assistants can help you with these. This research will make it possible for you to identify in advance an over-booked or under-booked schedule. If your office is constantly running late but you don’t want to decrease the number of patients you see during the day, extending your hours may be the best solution. Everyone is staying late due to the over-booked schedule anyway, so why not plan for it in advance? It will ease the stress on everyone involved. Team members don’t like staying late, either. Giving them a chance to plan for a late schedule is far more considerate than expecting them to stay late on a regular basis.


Emergencies will always be a part of dental practice life. There is a right way and a wrong way to appoint last-minute patients to ensure they do not adversely affect your schedule. If you use block booking, leave one or two openings each day for emergency patients. Keep in mind that these should not be filled more than 24 hours in advance. If the patient can wait until next week, it’s not an emergency. You can identify these times with your team at each morning meeting. If you don’t use block booking, discuss your plan for appointing emergency patients with your doctor and your team so they can help identify the best place to fit someone in.

As a general rule, you should never make a prescheduled patient wait because a last-minute patient was worked into the schedule before them. During the initial phone conversation, the emergency patient should be informed that they may have to wait once they arrive. They will be so happy that you are willing to adjust your schedule for them that they won’t mind waiting.

When waiting is unavoidable

On the off chance that your schedule is falling behind, make every effort to reach your next patient to let them know before they arrive. Come up with clever ways to make up for the inconvenience. Send them a Starbucks e-gift card so they can stop on their way in to get a drink or a snack. This can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.

Betsy Cord, MAADOM, is an office administrator in Portland, Oregon. She runs the front office of a busy private practice with a hand in all areas of patient care and practice management. Cord presides over the Portland Metro AADOM Chapter, and in 2018 was named AADOM’s Practice Administrator of the Year. She began her career in dental assisting in 1997, earned her CDPMA designation through DANB in 2002, FAADOM designation in 2014, and MAADOM designation in 2020. Through specialized training, Cord has had the opportunity to learn from the brightest minds in the industry, and she loves to pass on the wisdom she’s gained.