Often one of the most frustrating aspects of running an optometric practice is the patient who does not attend for their appointment as planned. Such ‘no shows’ can upset the dynamic of a busy clinic and disrupt a working day. What is more frustrating is the persistent non-attender. These people can present a real problem to a practice, especially when these people will often be the first to complain if they are denied an appointment when they want one. There really is just no justice anymore.

The real problem with these non-attenders is that they take up an appointment in an otherwise fully booked clinic that could well have been taken by someone who had a real visual problem and really needed to be seen far more urgently that the person who chose not to attend. Possibly the more galling aspect from the point of view of the practice owner is the lost revenue that that no show is responsible for.

That appointment slot represent a nil return in the income column for the day. This is not only frustrating but it could in some instances represent a real financial headache if this sort of thing happens a lot. Of course there are many and varied systems to try and prevent people from not attending, all of which of course add an additional expense to the practice which is already receiving a paltry sum from the NHS to do the test in the first place.

This sort of action is not limited to optometry. It is the scourge of hospital clinics, GP clinics and dental clinics. Sadly the non-attendance is often not even accompanied by an apology. I do wonder if this is symptomatic of modern society where everybody feels they are ‘owed something’ and hence when they can’t be bothered to make good on their commitment to attend for a pre-booked appointment they do not see it as an issue and, frankly probably couldn’t care less.

Of course, this situation may well be exacerbated if the appointment they have booked is costing them nothing. It has often been said that if the person offering the service rates it as having no value it is hardly surprising that the person accessing the service also rates it as valueless. Maybe then, in some instances, we only have ourselves to blame.

But are we as optometrists possibly being a little bit hypocritical when it comes to complaining about these non-attenders? Don’t get me wrong I sympathise with any practice owner to whom this has happened but just recently I have been attending some meetings put on by optical manufacturers for the sake of optometrists. These meetings are usually held at quite nice venues and at no little expense to the company themselves.

On one occasion the organisers had laid out all the name badges for those who had signed up to attend and I couldn’t help noticing at one of the breakout sessions that a very large number of these badges remained unclaimed. When I questioned the event organisers it turned out that over half of those optometrists who had signed up to attend had not bothered to attend. What compounded the awful situation was that not one of them had bothered to contact the organisers to say they would not attend or to apologise.

Since that time I have made a point of looking to see how often there are badges of non-attendees. At every event it seems there are quite a number of those who say they will attend who just do not bother. Of course, I accept there will be times when there are unavoidable events that cause non-attendance but I have also taken to asking organisers how many of the non-attenders have contacted to say they will not be attending and apologised. To date not one of these people has bothered to contact and say they will not attend or apologised.

I find this quite staggering and a display of arrogance and rudeness that really is unforgiveable. These companies spend thousands of pounds putting on programmes for clinicians. Of course they do it to gain a financially positive outcome but isn’t that what we do every day ourselves when we book patients to see us?

We cannot and never should complain about patients who do not keep their appointments with us if, at the very next turn, we do exactly the same to others. I admit I have been shocked at the numbers of my professional colleagues who think it is alright to say they will attend a function and then just not bother. Do they ever stop to consider the cost implications of their non-attendance?

If you are genuinely happy when patients do not keep their appointments then maybe you might find some sort of argument to carry on like this (although I doubt you should). However, if non-attenders annoy you then please make sure you are not guilty of the same offence. It is, I am sure most of you will agree, unforgiveable in all situations and totally unprofessional.