By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
In optometry, there are many times when employees work hard in the office to make sure everything is running smoothly and on time. However, a sunny day or a very busy one can give staff the urge to want to punch out on time or even early. How far will they go to ensure that they will be able to do so? Blocking out appointment slots with fake names and phone numbers may be one method employees use to lighten their workload and get out the door. Thoughthis actionmay seem harmless to them,it cancost their employer and the practice dearly.
The Compounding Loss
We all have good and bad days. We all have busy and slow days. Throughout it all we have to remember that we are at work for two reasons–to help patients and to make money. Not only do employees make money through their wages or salaries, employers make money through the profits of the practice. Profits in the practice come from seeing patients and selling products. By filling up the appointment book with phony appointments, the practice can be hurt when that fake patient “no shows” because it caused a decrease in availability of appointments to actual patients who could have been seen on that day in that time slot.
The actual patients who could have booked those appointment slots may not necessarily choose to schedule an appointment for a different time or day at that practice. They might just go find another practice that did have the availability on the day and time they found to be most convenient. If they happen to be impressed with the other practice that they tried, they could make it their new go-to place for all of their optometric and eye health needs and for that of their family. In this way, the lost earnings from that one blocked appointment slot have the potential to snowball and cost the practice not only a one-time exam and materials fee, but the profits from a lifetime’s worth of exams and materials fees from that patient and their family.
Detecting Fake Appointments
The best way to check to see if fake appointments are being booked in your office is to start looking at the appointment book for patterns. Do you often have no shows on Friday nights? Do those no shows often have phone numbers that are mysteriously wrong or out of order? Did those patients not leave any other contact information whatsoever? Track these no shows and false numbers. Note the day, time and appointment slot that had the no show. See if a pattern is developing. Consider adding another appointment slot in the same time bracket if this spot is frequently blocked by no shows whether it be because of fake or actual patients not showing up. Maybe patients really do cancel a lot on sunny Sundays. Confirm appointments that are booked online the same day by calling them on the phone. If a phone number is not in service or you suspect the patient may not show up, consider adjusting the day’s schedule by adding another appointment space to that time slot.
Prevention through Flexibility and Approachability
Most employees really do want to see the business at which they work succeed. They may not realize the full impact that booking one fake patient can have on the practice. To prevent employees from having to resort to booking fake patients, help them to feel comfortable telling you or the office manager if they feel fatigued or if they need to leave early on a certain day. Encourage them to fill earlier appointment slots first when patients call or come in to book appointments and to fill the last slot of the day last. Tell them you understand they may feel exhausted at the end of a long day or excited to start their weekend but the availability of appointments can only be changed at the discretion of the office manager or the practice owner. Ideally, a system should be in place that will allow employees to be able to leave on time or early without causing a potentially detrimental loss of profits to the practice. By being approachable to your employees and by being flexible, you can help to prevent employees from sabotaging your appointment book with fake patients and unlock your practice’s full profit potential.
Have you ever suspected or caught your staff using fake patients to block out the schedule? Do you think it has a harmless or harmful impact on the practice? Do you think if a patient were willing to leave a practice over not getting the appointment time they needed that they would have left for some other reason eventually? What is the procedure you have in place that allows employees to let you know when they feel fatigued or need flexibility with their shift on a certain day?