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Fam Pract Manag. 1998;5(5):78

Your office hours are a powerful marketing tool. Accessibility is high on the list of factors that attract patients to a particular practice.

Consider the types of patients you see. Should you offer a broader range of appointment times? A traditional schedule, such as 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., may not meet the needs of working parents, people who can't afford to take time from work, those with unusual schedules and those with transportation problems.

Listen to what patients are saying about their problems in making appointments, especially if you sense they're reluctant to schedule follow-up visits. Time may be an issue especially for patients whose problems aren't acute. Ask your staff to monitor requests for alternate hours, and survey patients about potential scheduling options.

If changes are warranted, look for ways to make your practice more accessible without placing undue demands on you and your staff. If you're in solo practice, for example, consider working different hours on different days. You might work a normal schedule three days a week but start your day at noon and work into the evening on the other two days.

In a group practice, one physician might take early appointments and another might take late appointments on different days, to offer more flexibility. Of course, not all services might be available outside “core” hours, since maintaining full staffing may not be a reasonable practice expense.

The key is to be in tune with your patients' needs and to show them you care by improving your accessibility.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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