Preventing and Handling Late Patients


The patient arrives more than 10 minutes late for a scheduled appointment.

Desired Result:

The patient receives the care that they need and the practice does not inconvenience another patient by running behind.

How to:

Before we can address the late patient issue, we must first make sure that we as a practice are not training our patient to arrive late because of regularly running behind and not seating patients within 10 minutes of the scheduled appointment time. If we do not respect our patient’s time, it is difficult for us to address the late patient arrival effectively.

As a team, analyze your procedure times and identify causes of running behind. You must make staying within the scheduled time frame a priority. If you are 10 minutes behind or more acknowledge the delay, and give the patient an approximate wait time. The more cordial and caring you are in addressing this with the patient, the more likely the patient will be considerate with you.

“Mrs. Jones, I am aware that your appointment today was for 11:00 am. Unfortunately, Dr. Robert’s assistant just informed me that he will need some extra time with his patient. We should be seating you in about 10 minutes. Can I offer you something to drink while you wait?  Thank you so much for your patience!”

As a good will gesture, follow up with the patient by sending a handwritten note thanking them for graciously waiting to be seen. If you feel it is appropriate include a gift card to a local coffee shop as a token of your appreciation.

When a patient is late:

  • Notify the clinical team to determine if the patient can still be seen for their regular appointment.
  • Try to at least see the patient for a quick check, even if they need to be re-appointed for the original procedure.

“Tina, we were worried about you, I’m glad you’re here.  I hope everything is o.k.” Empathize with the patient’s reason for being late.  “I’m sorry traffic was so terrible, I know it can really get bad at this time of day.  Let me check in back to see if they have the quality time that they need for this procedure.”  If the answer is no… “Tina, in order to devote enough time to what we had originally scheduled for today, we will need to schedule another appointment.”

  • Once you see a pattern developing with a late patient, say something like the following:

“Tina, we need your help.  We would like to discuss how you could help us stay on schedule with your treatment, as well as your patient appointments. Can you tell me what might be preventing you from being on time?  Maybe you and I can come up with some solutions that could work.”

  • When a patient is late and they are too young to be responsible for getting themselves to the office, it is important to communicate directly with the responsible party. Many children are embarrassed and have no control over the situation.