Closing the Office For Lunch? Forget About It

Neil Baum, MD

Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice: Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers. He is also author of Social Media For The Healthcare Profession, Greenbranch Publishing, 2011. He blogs at

I have watched more offices over the past few years close their phones and front desk during the lunch hour. If you close your office for an hour at lunchtime, what message are you sending your patients? You are declaring that serving your patients takes a back seat to serving yourself and your employees. Closing your phone lines at lunchtime means that you are creating missed opportunities for a vital 20% - 25% of your business day. Remember that a significant number of your patients are gainfully employed and they cannot make calls between 9-12 and 1-4 and the only time available to them is during their lunch hour. There are going to be a significant number of patients who can only come to the office during their lunch hour, and patients will be shunted to practices that are open for business during the lunch hour.

I know that I got pushback from my staff when we decided to keep the phone lines open and be able to see patients during the lunch hour. My staff have developed camaraderie with each other and enjoy the time together when they are “off the stage” and able to kick back with each other or with a drug rep who often comes to sponsor a lunch. However, our practice has a production based bonus plan and in order to reach the benchmarks, we need to be able to attract new patients and keep the ones we have by offering lunchtime appointments.

How we do it:

We have eight employees and we stagger the lunch with four eating lunch and four either answering the phone or assisting with patient care. We use the lunchtime to see new patients who want to be seen that day or we see emergencies or urgencies during the lunch hour. There are usually two patients who meet these criteria and are delighted to have this kind of access to the practice. 

Once a month we have a staff meeting and we place the phone on the answering service with a message to the service that if there are emergency calls, they are to contact us on our “back” line.

As a result we are able to see 10-12 new additional patients or urgencies or emergencies each week. You can do the math and see how this enhances our bottom line. As a result we have patients who recognize our commitment to patient care, patient access to the practice, and that we place patient needs before our own. We believe this change has resulted in minor adjustments on the part of our staff, but the improvement in productivity and ultimately in staff bonuses have more than compensated for the small sacrifices that the staff have made.

Bottom Line: Look for ways to be of greater service to your patients. Modifying your lunch hour is one easy way to be more productive and provide greater service to your patients.