What to Say When Your Clinic Is Too Busy To Accept New Patients
No clinic owner likes to turn patients away. Not only does it feel like turning money away, it also means you don’t get to help that person get better, which is the main reason you chose this profession. But what can you say when a patient calls in and you have a three-week wait list? Are there phone scripts for how to handle that? 🤔
The good news is – Yes! There is something you can say in that situation, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, you must recognize the fact that having a three-week waiting list is itself a sign of a much bigger problem at your clinic. Paul Wright explained why in a recent episode of New Patient Secrets.
Who is Paul Wright?
He owned six physical therapy businesses in Australia. Before selling them, he had perfected his systems so well that he only showed up in his clinics a few hours each week, and five of them were in different cities. Now, he spends even more time with his family and focuses on his coaching business, the Million Dollar Health Professional Program. Paul has spoken to over 20,000 health professionals.
Watch Paul’s interview video, or just keep reading.
Why Your Three-Week Wait List Is a Problem 🙅
Having a waiting list (1 week or longer) means you have more people calling for treatment than you have capacity to treat. Consider the reasons why this happens. There are only a few possibilities:❌ Your prices are too low, so everyone and their pets are coming to you
❌ You don’t have enough clinicians
❌ You aren’t open for enough hours
❌ Too many patients insist on seeing one particular clinician, or the owner
When you really think about those issues, you realize being busy does not mean you’re making more money. Low prices can make it seem like your brand and therapy marketing is working. But really, you’re just the cheapest clinic on the block. If you doubled your prices and your wait list disappeared, you would probably make more money.
If you opened up more shifts or hired another clinician, you could see more patients in the same amount of hours, and would make more money. A bottleneck centered on you or one clinician isn’t spreading the work around evenly or efficiently.
Whatever the cause, your long wait list is not a sign of good business. It’s a sign of missed opportunities.
Why Phone Scripts Matter 📜
A phone script helps ensure that no matter who is speaking with patients on the phone, they will communicate the message you want the patient to hear, and in the way you want them to hear it.
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As your front desk team continually changes over time, you need a system for training up each new hire. Otherwise, you’re relying on each person’s ‘gut instincts’ for how to communicate on the phone. Most younger people these days don’t even know how to talk on the phone because they’ve been texting their whole lives.
With phone scripts, you can standardize your phone communications across the entire clinic. And if you’re using good phone scripts, you will increase your booking rates. And this doesn’t just apply to patients. You can also use phone scripts in your doctor marketing.
And to be clear, phone scripts don’t have to be long. As you’re about to see, they can be just one sentence.
Check out this video on how to Get Your Front Desk to Sell WITHOUT Being Salesy:
3 Ways to Respond to Patients When You Have a Long Wait List 🗣️
So then, what do you say when a patient calls and you have a long waiting list? Most clinics just say, matter-of-factly and without concern, “We have a three-week wait list. You want to book an appointment?”
Blah. Does that make you feel appreciated, valued, or cared for? It’s bureaucratic, administrative, and dry. Here’s what to do instead:
1) Use this Phone Script
Paul suggests connecting them with a therapist to work something out. Say something like this:
“Our wait is three weeks right now, but I’m going to get my therapist to call you and we’ll see what we can do.”
This response shows your concern for the patient is greater than your schedule. It doesn’t promise them treatment or guarantee anything, but it makes clear you will attempt to find a solution.
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What solutions might you or your therapist offer them? Perhaps squeeze them in to the schedule or get them to be okay with waiting?
"Book with Mat 3 weeks from now, and in the meantime see ___. If you're happy with ___ then we'll just cancel your appointment with Mat, and if you'd like to still see him in 3 weeks then you have your appointment booked with him - but everyone ends up cancelling because they are happy with _____"
2) Convert Them onto Your Clinic's Waitlist
If your front desk teams are practising and using phone scripts, they should already be rockstars at converting prospective patients on the phone into your clinic's waitlist.
If the patient is looking to book with a specific therapist and their schedule is completely full, an alternative option you could give them would be to offer them an appointment with another therapist in your clinic, at a much sooner date.
Give them enough value so they are okay with waiting for the next appointment.
3) Change Your Scheduling Practices
As mentioned before, when your clinic is to busy to accept new patients means something needs to change. You need to create more shifts or hire more people.
- Optimize your schedule so you have two shifts a day (AM and PM)
- Open on Saturday and Sunday
- Offer Telehealth or Virtual to open up capacity
If your team won't accept these scheduling changes, recruit new therapist who will accept them. You can even pay them more and give them a shift "premium" to work on evenings or weekends.
If you don't have staff that want this schedule, hire new therapist who will. It's more profitable to maximize your space than trying to open up a second clinic.
What If I’m Too Overwhelmed to Train My Staff with Phone Scripts?
Especially with Covid-19 in play, clinic owners have even more to do with all the cleaning protocols and other additional tasks to do – in their clinics and in their personal lives. Sometimes, the idea of training your staff feels like one thing too many.
But as Paul Wright puts it, what is it costing you to OVERLOAD the front desk? It's expensive.
What's your alternative?
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You can either keep doing what you’re doing and live with the consequences, or change something. Take action.
Here’s an idea:
Ask your staff if they feel overwhelmed. If they have too many tasks on their list, on top of the long wait list, this is a sure sign you need to hire more help. You just need to find a way to make it happen. Otherwise, you’ll risk burnout, for yourself and your staff. And if your best people start quitting, now you need to go through the hiring process anyway, but not because it will ease your wait list.
A better plan is to start using phone scripts, using call tracking and call recording to monitor your team’s performance, and then reward them. Here are 28 ways to reward your staff.
If you know your numbers, you should know how much capacity you have to hire additional help. Paul describes one clinic who employs a full-time concierge, just to help make patients feel comfortable. They see enough value in this for their patients and their bottom line that they justified paying for this position.
One position you might consider hiring is a full-time front desk just focused on inbound phones and followups calls. This person won’t be distracted by all the other front desk duties, which can make phone calls feel like interruptions. This person will be fully devoted to and focused on the person calling them. Easier to train, and will deliver more consistent service.
Speaking of Covid – Is There a Phone Script for Patients Nervous about Coming In?📝
Paul Wright suggests that people are nervous about coming to physical therapy clinics for all sorts of reasons, like being sold treatments they don’t need, or wondering if it will even help. Covid is just another one of these.
The key to overcoming these sorts of fears is to help them feel comfortable. As Paul puts it, suppose your grandmother were the one on the phone, or a friend you hadn’t seen in a long time. If they were calling and expressed this fear, what would you say to encourage them to come in?
Speak to your nervous patients like you would speak to these people. They’re not calling to get rid of pain. They’re calling because some part of their life has been affected and they want it back.
And if you want your clinic to be SUPER prepared for scenarios regarding COVID, check out this post...
PS. Get your hands on the FREE "7 Secrets of a High-Revenue Front Desk" checklist to uncover strategies such as a 3-sentence follow-up script for missed bookings, turning around low-performing receptionists, and a simple motivation trick for boosting revenue and patient count. Click here to get the checklist.
What is a phone script?
Who should use a phone script at a physical therapy clinic?
How can I know if my team is using the phone scripts I’ve trained them on?
ABOUT RICK LAU
Rick built three $10 million healthcare businesses over the past fifteen years, including a network of 127 clinics with over 1400 employees. He is one of the most sought-after mentors for clinic owners in Canada and the US, where he has helped owners double, triple, and quadruple their profits by optimizing their clinic operations using proven systems and leadership strategies. He has spent millions on Google and Facebook ads during his career.
You can follow him on Instagram