As we start to head deeper into the school year my phone is ringing off the hook. This is typically the time of year in my Minnesota practice where the shininess of school has worn off, difficulties and struggles are being highlighted, and school counselors are supporting parents with referrals.
And maybe my practice is like yours where I’m full. To the top. And this year?
Well, it seems like in my little corner of the world there is definitely more need than available therapists that are trained to see and support kids, young kids, teens, and families. I’m usually not the first call a parent has made and they are in a place of feeling stressed out and under supported.
So what is a therapist to do?
If keeping a waitlist for your practice is something you do or are considering doing, I wanted to give you 3 areas to consider for your waitlist systems:
Identify the “what”
The first thing with a waitlist that you need to think about is systems. You need to identify what HIPAA compliant platform you will be using to track the waitlist and what information you need on the waitlist for call backs when there is an available spot.
On mine? It is a password protected document with the name of the caregiver, name and age of the child, contact email address and phone number, and date they came onto the waitlist. If available I add a short blurb about presenting concern.
In the past admin has taken over this task for me and with some electronic medical records the waitlist can be housed confidentially within the platform!
Identify the “how”
The next thing to think about is exactly how someone gets on the waitlist. This varies practice to practice and my systems when at a group practice were really different from being in a solo practice.
At the end of the day these systems matter and can be the difference between someone falling through the cracks when they get missed being put on the waitlist and having a seamless process. For the clients where the former happens this can lead to frustration when they call back 6 months later and your admin doesn’t have a record of who they are or that they were even on your waitlist!
If someone is managing your waitlist for you it is essential to have clear communication and understand the process and flow of how someone gets on to the point where they are being re-called when you have an opening!
In a solo practice it’s a little easier - the who is always you!
For me I always add the client to my spreadsheet when I am live on the phone with them, double verify their information and hit save. This prevents me from writing it down and forgetting to enter it in or come back to it.
Consider timelines, referrals, and ethics
It would be wonderful if you could have an exact estimate of how long someone would be on your wait list. This primes expectations and creates a positive beginning of the therapy relationship. Because…the therapy relationship starts with the first call - including being put on the waitlist.
Consider this - what is your experience like at a restaurant when the hostess tells you it will be 20 minutes and you are seated in 10? Great right? Well what about when they tell you 20 and it is over an hour and 20 minutes (true story)? Well that can lead to frustration and stress.
For me putting someone on your wait list means they aren’t getting care somewhere else. AND because I am a solo therapist (as opposed to a practice with 15 therapists that see kids) I have less of a pulse on how quickly a client will be able to get in. For me I am very transparent and open with clients that I can’t predict when an opening will happen and offer that they are free to call me about status at any time.
At the same time because I want clients to get the care they need as soon as possible I usually share with each client on my wait list 3 clinics (according to their presenting concern or therapy requesting) that also may have openings and encourage them to try other clinics as well. This can be tricky when you are one of few or the only one in an area with a certain specialty.
It is also an ethical decision of when to cap or close your wait list due to length.
So - those are three topic areas I would encourage you to consider if you are thinking of keeping a wait list, or looking to refine how your wait list is kept!
AND if scheduling is a headache for you too, I would urge you to consider upping your scheduling game from burned out to living your ideal schedule (even with seeing kids!) check out my program Signature Scheduling Systems!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,