Reader D. asks:

“What are your most successful tips for closing the appointment on time with verbose patients?”

For those of you with “talk-heavy” consultative practices, a talkative client (or a series of them) can either throw a busy schedule completely off-kilter, or turn a not-so-busy schedule into a day of chatter that you don’t get properly paid for. Here’s our strategy for reigning in the chatty ones without being rude.

1. Use a Clock. You really can’t be on time if you don’t know what time it is. Same goes for your clients.

That may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many practitioners don’t have a clock in their office. A watch can work, but it can be hard to glance at your watch in some situations—a clock may work better. Better yet, try two—one that you can see, and one that your patients can see, too.

2. Take Responsibility

Practitioners with real chops for managing time will tell you that an appointment isn’t just a meandering conversation. It’s a guided, structured interaction. And the guide is you, not the client.

An appointment that ends right on time isn’t luck. It’s not because of a cooperative client, or the ability to simply shut someone down mid-sentence and say, “Your time is up.” Appointments finish on time because the practitioner controls the appointment, not the client.

If your appointments run consistently late, you need to accept that it’s within your control to change that.

3. Lead The Interaction

It may be your job to guide the appointment to a timely finish, but talkative clients can be very persistent. :) Here a are a few tips to taking control of the appointment flow:

  • Re-state the time frame. Chatty clients tend to forget how much time is available. You can gently remind them up front by saying, “We only have until 2:30, so we should get right to it.”
  • Don’t ask “How are you?” with verbose patients. Stick to more closed questions that are specific to your patient’s complaint. Instead of “How are you?” try, “How are your headaches?”
  • Don’t ask open-ended questions after the halfway mark. With verbose patients, you’ll need to start closing sooner. Don’t open up a whole new topic, or ask for more information after the midpoint. The first half is for them, the second half is for you – you need time to diagnose, treat, create a plan, explain, etc.

Any suggestions for keeping a runaway appointment on the rails? Let us know in the comments!


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3 Responses to “3 Ways to Keep Chatty Clients on Time”

  1. Dr. Deidre Macdonald says:

    Great suggestions! When I get really desperate to close off an appointment I let them know that we have an agenda of discussion topics for our next visit and whatever they are talking about is right on top.

    Body language is powerful. I then close the file, put my pen down and push my chair back. Rarely do I have to be the one to start walking towards the door while they are still talking!

  2. Dr. Samantha says:

    When the patient arrives I ask what she wants to make sure gets addressed that visit because we have x amount of time and I want to be sure to get to her priorities. If she goes into detail I gently bring her back to the list.

    Then I make sure to keep this in mind as I lead the visit. If things go start to go off track I’ll say “Hey, sorry to cut you off but I want to make sure we get to everything on your list today!”

    Toward the end I’ll say “OK we have 5 minutes left, let’s make sure we get to x then if there is anything else we need to address we can talk about it at your next visit. If you think it can’t wait 2 weeks I’m happy to try to find a time to squeeze you in.”

    I like Dr. Macdonald’s ideas above too!

  3. KO says:

    As a massage therapist, I love, “We only have until 2:30, so we should get right to it.” Will definitely try some variation of that one.

    Most clients don’t seem to get that there’s an end time. I allow more time between clients than most MTs so we can do a meaningful intake and outtake without cutting into their treatment time. I don’t want them to feel like we can’t talk (about their treatment) because it will cut into their massage time. But that means if we start late or talk too long it usually comes out of my hide. This strategy seems like a good way to allow for that talk time but put a limit on it. And for some clients, being reminded there’s an end time might eventually get them to arrive earlier so we can start on time.

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