Smooth the transition to a flexible hours operation

Use these tips to make the switch

Long hours aren’t for every practice, although there are few that won’t benefit, says John White, practice administrator of Southwest Asthma & Allergy in Houston. The six offices of his practice have been staying open late for the last 21¼2 years. His five tips for practices considering opening late are as follows:

1. Let your patients guide you.

White says his decision came on the heels of a patient satisfaction survey that asked about the convenience of the offices’ hours. "We asked if our hours were adequate," he recalls. "If the answer was no, we asked them what hours they would like to see."

2. Consider your location.

The hours that will attract the most patients depend on where you are. For example, if your practice is in a suburban area, White says your patients will probably want early morning and late evening hours. "They want to go to the doctor before or after work." If, however, you are in an urban area, then you will see more patients wanting lunch-time appointments.

3. Keep your phone lines open at lunch.

One of the biggest boons to Southwest’s business in the new hours was keeping the practice phone lines operating during lunch, says White — although the practice does not see patients at that time. "Teachers and people in big companies are limited as to when they can make phone calls," he says. "We have seen a real increase in appointments made just because we man our phones during the lunch hour."

4. Consider your patient base.

If you see mostly retired people, perhaps there is less need for you to consider opening late or on weekends, White says. But for those who see children, the need could be greatest. Most families have both parents working. Between work schedules and kids being in school, there is a high demand for pediatric practices to stay open late.

5. Decide when you want to work.

White says that the entire practice should ask itself how hard it wants to work. "No practice staff are just in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You keep later hours than that anyway. Why not shift the patient burden to later in the day when you can benefit your patients?" By doing so, you free up time in your day earlier to do all that paperwork you used to do at night.