The dilemma of how many patients to schedule per day

September 15, 2020

If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d say we are probably all on the same page about one thing with this pandemic: Learning to live with it because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d say we are probably all on the same page about one thing with this pandemic: Learning to live with it because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

We have our masks, our personal protective equipment (PPE), and our new protocols and policies for office staff and office cleaning. However, one aspect of the current state of affairs that I am really having a difficult time grappling with is how many patients I should see in a day.

In the pre-pandemic era (which now seems akin to a time when giant ODs roamed the Earth), my father and I had full days even for a time of year that wasn’t historically our busiest. Now, I have our schedule at about 50 percent of what it used to be. We mandate masks and temperature checks, and we have our COVID-19–specific documentation in plain view. Our office was a movie theatre over 100 years ago. So, there is ample space.

Waiting patients

Why the current scheduling approach? Well, you may be thinking what I’ve heard from other ODs and some dentists: “Why not just let them wait in their cars in your parking lot?” First, I don’t have a parking lot, and many of my patients don’t have cars. Going further, I have found that the patient appointment times aren’t the rate-limiting step for our schedule. It is people coming in for optical needs or waiting around for their ride home.

Just the other day, I had 3 patients from 3 different families come in for appointments at 3 different times. The problem was that they all showed up in the same van which gives rides to the doctor for people who don’t have a car or can’t drive or afford the bus. They were all dropped off around 2:00 p.m., and it was close to 5:00 p.m. before the van came back around. It was also 100° that afternoon, and I sure wasn’t going to have them wait outside in the sun and heat. So, I gave them each a bottle of water and told them to please not change seats in the waiting room.

We have worked in quite a few emergencies lately, and we have also had our share of no-shows. Besides waiting for an appointment, most of my patients seem to appreciate my modus operandi. One patient (a retired physician) told my staff he wasn’t wearing a mask because he treated some horrible influenza outbreak in the 1970s and didn’t get sick at all. When we gave him a disposable mask, he walked outside and threw it away in our view. He was not invited back inside.

It’s just a crazy time, and I am looking forward to a day when I can see a “full schedule” comfortably. …But enough about me. How are you? How are things with your clinical life? Reach out and let us know. Just don’t throw your mask away without using it. We’ll make you wait outside.

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