How to keep clinician waitlists fresh and alive

Posted in Expansion Issues
Tagged , ,

No practice owner is a fan of waitlists. Putting a client on a waitlist means that we are not immediately helping the client or referrer. Everyone prefers more responsive methods. And yet, the system I am suggesting here does the next best thing–offering clients’ repeated opportunities to make decisions about their treatment options and get them in as quickly as reasonable. 

Waitlist problems

A long waitlist suggests several problems. First, it means we have more referrals than we have staff capacity. While it is good to have many referrals, failing to get them into treatment rapidly is a problem. It means that the current staff is so busy as not to accommodate a new client. No one benefits from that scenario–not the client, referrer, therapist, or practice. 

Additionally, once on the waitlist, practices have a hard time keeping the list up-to-date and accurate. It isn’t easy is to keep the waitlist fresh. It takes a dedicated system that is maintained every week. 

And then there is another problem. The urgency that drove the client to call may dissipate quickly. The client got on the list during a crisis but rarely called to say the situation has passed. 

The bottom line? Avoid the waitlist if possible. But how do we do that? 

We could tell the potential client that we have nothing available, so call back later if they like. I’m not fond of this approach. Turning clients away helps no one. And pushing the responsibility back on the client’s shoulders to call again is a big turn off. 

Alternatively, we might offer an immediately available therapist to the potential client. I like this option better. Nevertheless, many clients, even before coming in, are emotionally committed to the referred clinician. And they are willing to wait. Some will insist on waiting.

The reality is that there are times when we must create and manage waitlists, especially during our busy seasons. So let’s think about how to do it well. 

The perfect waitlist system

Tracking waitlists for a couple of clinicians is not too tricky. Managing them in larger practices is a nightmare. But it is possible to do it well. Here is how.

Don’t leave waitlists in clinicians control

Some practices do not want to bother with waitlists. However, if the practice does not do it, inevitably, some clinicians will. Allowing this to continue is a mistake. First, not all clinicians are good at managing a list. Some will simply try to remember who is next in line. If the wait gets more than a week or two, one’s memory certainly will fail.

Second, if the waitlist stays with the clinician, there is no opportunity to transfer a referral from one clinician to another. I admit that many clinicians like to horde waitlist clients. A long list is a comfortable security blanket. They think that if they have a long waitlist, they will never have schedule gaps. 

But this is not true. Why? Because the longer one stays on a waitlist, the less likely they are to come when called. So while the clinician thinks they have a nice backlog of waiting clients, by the time the call is made, they have moved on, often with some degree of disappointment. Waitlists become stale quite quickly. 

Using a centralized set of waitlists

The best way to create and manage a waitlist is this. 

First, have one person in charge 

Dedicating one person to this job heightens the practice places on creating and managing the waitlists for all clinicians in the practice. Managing a usable waitlist is ultimately about maintaining a routine every week. Therefore, choose someone who likes to maintain systems. 

Second, start a new waitlist each week

I suggest using a spreadsheet (Excel or Numbers) to manage the waitlists. I’ll explain why later. The list should keep track of this information: 

  • Date of Client’s Original Call
  • Dates of Follow-up Calls
  • Preferred therapist
  • Clinical Issues
  • Notes

As a client gets assigned, they get “crossed off” the list. 

Third, every four weeks, the waitlist manager calls each person

The monthly call is a critical step in the process of keeping the waitlists fresh and alive. Use the following script to sort out the next steps: 

  • Hi this is ________ from ____________.  
  • I am still not sure when ___________ will become available.
  • I have another therapist who could see you right away. Would you prefer that option?

If they do not accept the transfer, then ask: 

  • Do you want to continue to wait for __________. I’ll check back either in a month or, hopefully, when an appointment slot opens up sooner.

If they decide to continue to wait, their information gets moved to this week’s waiting list. Managing the waitlists in a spreadsheet makes transferring information quite simple.

Lastly, the clinicians and waitlist manager work together to manage open appointment slots 

The teamwork between the clinicians and the waiting list manager is part of what makes it all work. The clinicians keep the waitlist manager informed of any slots that open up. Additionally, the waitlist manager, too, can let each clinician know how many potential clients they have on the waitlist. A communicative waitlist manager will go far in reassuring clinicians that their referrals are well-cared for. 

Advantages of this method 

There are several advantages to this approach. First, the waiting list manager has only four weeks of lists to track. The list is kept fresh and current by calling every four weeks. 

Second, every month, potential clients have a chance to accept an assignment to a new therapist or wait for the original therapist. Clients know that they are remembered and cared for.

Third, rather than just passively letting potential clients sit on the list, we encourage them to get treatment more quickly, albeit with another clinician in our practice. This offer may eventually expand the awareness of the referrer who sent the client. We want referrers to know many of our clinicians rather than just promoting one. (See How to convert solid referral relationships into fan clubs for more on this process.) 

Lastly, when we succeed in making a transfer to an available clinician, our clinicians stay busier. That is good for the client, referrer, therapist, and the practice. Everyone wins. The more clinicians with full schedules, the happier everyone is. And this method should help address clinicians’ worries about running out of referrals. 


Try it out and see if you can make improvements to these ideas. And let me know how it goes at: email David


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.