Practice Management

Clues to Who Your Patients Are & What They Need

By Maria Higgins, OD

August 30, 2017

How much do you know about your patients? Knowing the general demographics of your town isn’t the same as knowing, specifically, who your patients are. What products and services do they most need from you? How do you best market to them? While owner of the Unique Optique in Frederick, Md., I learned to observe characteristics of patients, and how I could create products, services, and marketing, to attract them.

The mission statement of Dr. Higgin’s former practice, Unique Optique. Dr. Higgins says she tried to present to patients a practice that adhered to these qualities.

Note Different Groups of Patients Visiting
While the focus was on “unique,” all walks of life were accepted and loved.

At one extreme, we were 100 yards from the courthouse, so we had many lawyers, judges and legal support staff. As a whole, they were mostly conservative in style, and looked for glasses to blend inconspicuously into their professional environment.

At the other extreme, we sponsored the local roller derby team. They usually wanted the craziest, most colorful frames available.

In the middle of the road, we did a lot to support the local gay and lesbian pride movement. Their tastes were quite varied, and did not fit into any particular genre, aside from the desire to look their best.

We made sure to have a variety of styles and colors to suit these diverse tastes. We listened carefully when people asked if we carried specific frame lines. For example, people asked for Lafont repeatedly, and although we already carried a colorful French line, Anne & Valentin, we bought Lafont because of all the inquiries.

Listen to Feedback, But Maintain Identity
Sometimes, managing the overlapping extremes of our patient base was not smooth. For example, we ran an ad that said “Guys make passes at guys who wear our glasses.” One of our ultra-conservative lawyers, who had referred many male colleagues, was upset because those who saw the ad were teasing him at work. We listened and were kind, but we did not alter our mission. We did not alter our advertising, or culture, because we felt strongly about it, regardless of the lawyer’s embarrassment.

Conduct Surveys
A lot of information surfaced from surveying our patients using the online e-mail survey tool, SurveyMonkey. For example, we were not aware that the scented plug-ins we used to give the office a pleasing scent also gave some patients migraines. We also did not know that some people wanted to be texted. Some patients said that they needed evening appointments and later hours for eyewear and contact lens pick-ups. We were able to make changes to respond to those needs.

We asked questions with multiple-choice response options in our surveys, as well as open-ended questions. SurveyMonkey is an easy program to use for this. Patients were most open when they could respond anonymously.

Listen to Staff
Staff is hugely helpful in both product recommendations, as well as patient feedback regarding their experience. Sometimes a patient will complain to a staff person before they will tell the doctor/owner.

For instance, my staff informed me of the number of times people asked for Lafont. And they told me about the nearby cosmetology school students, who were continually using our photo booth. Our antique-looking photo booth had been free, and changing the setting to require a dollar stopped their disruptive visits.

Use Your EHR to Mine Patient Data
Most electronic health record systems give you the ability to segment out data about your patients needs and spending patterns. We used RevolutionEHR, which I would highly recommend. It allowed us to print reports of which frames were the best sellers, which brand of frames did the best, and which patients spent the most money.

Ask Your Vendors
The best vendors would print reports for us of which frames were our best sellers. The best ones would also take back anything that wasn’t moving, and replace it with new product. ProDesign was particularly good about this. Sometimes they would take back half of our inventory and replace it with fresh styles.

Vendors also can give you tips about your patient base’s style leanings. For example, our vendors noted that while many of our patients had adventurous taste in frames, they did not like the “European style,” meaning the edgier looks frequently seen on Europe catwalks.

Note Signs You Are Misreading Your Patients’ Needs
We tried hard to be aware of our patient’s feelings and preferences, but we sometimes fell short. We certainly had some events that were not well attended. For instance, we had a holistic health fair (masseuse, personal trainer, psychologist, chiropractor and me) that had only a few attendees. It was either that the weather was 100 degrees that day, and people didn’t want to be out in the heat, or that our patients just weren’t that interested in holistic health.

In addition to events that are not well attended, and products that don’t sell, signs that you’re not getting your patients include: a decline in word-of-mouth referrals, less people saying that they get stopped in the street and asked about their glasses, a less-full appointment book and stagnant, or negative, revenue growth.


Maria Higgins, OD
, owns The Unique Technique, a business and marketing consultancy. She formerly owned The Unique Optique in Frederick, Md. To contact her:

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