The management of a waiting list has become a challenge for many psychologists in private practice, particularly as a result of increased referrals since the introduction of Medicare rebates for psychological services.

While the current Code of Ethics does not deal specifically with managing waiting lists, the principles provided below imply that psychologists must ensure that they fulfil their duty of care to the public by providing an alternative to referred clients when an appointment cannot be offered within a suitable time frame.

Subsection B.10. under Section B: Propriety of the APS Code of Ethics, states that:

B.10.1 Psychologists make suitable arrangements for other appropriate professionals to be available to meet the emergency needs of their clients during periods of the psychologists' foreseeable absence.

B.10.2 Where necessary and with the client's consent, a psychologist  makes specific arrangements with other appropriate professionals to consult with the client during periods of the psychologist's foreseeable absence.

Suggestions for managing a waiting list

  • Ensure you have ascertained the nature of assistance the client requires and that you are able to provide it before placing a client on your waiting list.

  • Develop a policy within your practice for the management of waiting lists. This could include:
    • Deciding on the length of the waiting period for your waiting list before you will no longer accept further referrals.
    • Developing a contact list of other psychologists in your local area that you can refer to in the event that you cannot provide an appointment in an agreed time frame. 
    • Suggesting local private practitioners arrange to keep each other updated regarding their availability, holiday periods etc. Include information on your answering machine detailing approximate time of next available appointment if more than a week away or, if not accepting new clients, provide names of alternative psychologists and the phone number of the APS Find a Psychologist Service.

  • Ensure that your receptionist understands the practice policy on waiting lists and can convey this sensitively to the prospective client.

  • In the case of an urgent referral, contact the referrer to explain the situation and offer alternatives.

  • Suggest the client contact their GP or refer them to the Emergency Department at your local hospital or other service that accepts urgent cases.

  • As part of managing your waiting list, communicate your availability to relevant referrers such as your local GP network and other regular referrers. This could include how you respond to urgent requests for appointments, whether you are willing to see clients during lunchbreaks or after work, or whether you set aside time for emergencies as part of your practice.

Points to consider prior to deciding to accept a new client

  • When making the decision to accept a new client, psychologists should ask themselves the following questions: 
  1. Can I commit to providing the best service for this client?
  2. How will I manage the needs of my existing clients?
  3. How many sessions will I need to book ahead for this client?
  • Psychologists need to give serious consideration to their caseload management in the interest of their own mental and physical health. This will invariably have an impact on waiting lists; however, it is not only professionally responsible but also personally important to be realistic about service provision for the sake of practitioners' own well-being.