On average, how much time in your day do you allocate for a typical, routine examination?

Of course, no examination should be considered as “typical” or “routine.” But, for our purposes here, let’s generalize. Would you say you allot about 20 to 30 minutes for most exams? Perhaps that time slot varies depending on whether the patient is new or established? Perhaps you add more time to the appointment if your patient has expressed interest in contact lenses?

Regardless of how you answered the questions above, I challenge you to follow up with one question: Why?

If you allocate 20 minutes for established contact lens patient appointments, have you considered why you have selected that time frame? Why not 30 minutes? Or 15 minutes? By doing this exercise, I encourage you as a practitioner to periodically—I recommend once a year—take time to review your scheduling templates and consider what breakdown is the most efficient use of your time.

I recently visited a client who had a very elegant scheduling template setup. When I asked him how much time he spent configuring it, he said none. Instead, he said he used the pre-existing time slots that came with the software.

That answer dumbfounded me; you shouldn’t keep doing things the way you’ve always done them without considering if there is a better alternative.

Here are five reasons why you should continually review how you’re scheduling patients:

1. Technology: When you add or delete technology from your examination sequence, you may increase or decrease the amount of time needed to care for your patients.

Often, when new technology is introduced, the learning curve can be steep. In response, some practitioners tack on a few extra minutes to their scheduling templates. Once the technology becomes a seamless part of the practice, these practitioners don’t always revert back to the previous streamlined schedule. Now, the new technology that should save you time is paradoxically contributing to longer patient appointments.

2. Lenses: Some types of lenses and some types of patients take more time to fit than others. However, as your experience with new lenses increases, the time to successfully fit them decreases. Ask yourself whether you are scheduling the same amount of time for a spherical follow-up visit as for a keratoconic, or whether you are using a new keratoconic design?

3. Staff: You might have originally set up your schedule when you only had three staff members and were hardly delegating. Now, four years later, with seven staff and a highly delegated system, it might be time to revisit your schedule books. You might be seeing more patients in less time with absolutely no change in the quality of care you provide.

4. Calendar: As I pointed out with our client above, don’t be constricted by your software template or the pre-existing appointment increments. Just because your calendar might break up the day by five, 10 or 15 minutes does not mean that you have to abide by that schedule. This is especially true for those practitioners who still use paper appointment books.

Don’t let a $10 diary run your million-dollar business! Instead, change your daily appointment slots to best fit your practice needs. Flexibility is key here.

5. Reimbursements: While we hate to admit it, there may be times when you’ll just have to work faster to see a profit. That doesn’t mean you have to provide less quality care, but it might mean you have to cut out the small talk. As reimbursements for services continue to decrease, consider how much chair time you spend with your patients.

On the other hand, if you can’t work any faster and the reimbursements you receive are no longer sufficient to cover your costs, you should consider dropping that particular plan.

Taking the time to review your appointment schedule once a year can make a big impact in the success of your practice. When you fill your schedule with time slots that best fit your patients’ needs, you may find that you have extra room left in your day.