By Aaron Neufeld, OD
April 19, 2017
I’m always looking for ways to improve my patients’ experience in our office. I want to exceed their expectations, so they return for care, and refer friends and family, and I want to prime them for purchase in our optical.
Functionality and comfort are important aspects of the office environment, however, I also want our office to communicate the practice brand. Every experience should reflect positivity, cleanliness and excellence.
Many practice management gurus believe that a practice should provide an experience that makes the patient want to return, and I agree.
The overall experience with the doctor, opticians and staff is important, and represents the bulk of a patient’s opinion of a practice. However, details such as cleanliness, organization, color scheme and the presentation of products also factor into the patient’s perception of your practice. The truth is: You don’ t have to spend a ton of money to make improvements that have a high impact on driving new exams, increasing optical sales, and improving the patient experience. Here’s how to make high impact improvements without excessive spending.
Over the last five years, I have made three key improvement in three key areas of my office–and our measurements are showing an increased ROI from these efforts.
Optical: New frame lines and cleaner arrangement. Frame line changes did not involve additional costs. We worked a relatively even exchange with other frame lines that were not performing well. To make our merchandising cleaner, we bought cosmetically altering displays for about $20.
Reception: Go Electronic & Current. We added an electronic picture frame for $100. Also, we updated patient education brochures, and we printed a large stock of new business cards to reinforce our branding for around $150.
Pre-Testing: We added promotional/educational signage at no cost from vendors we spoke to at the Academy of Optometry meeting.
Always be branding–and always be welcoming
When I took over my practice from the previous owner, I realized there were certain aesthetic and functional aspects of the office that could be changed to improve the patient’s experience and perception.
The first thing I noticed was that even though we had an office logo, the office was not “branded.” There was no uniformity in the products and promotional material we provided. I made a concentrated effort to make sure a consistent logo appeared on all our materials in an effort to foster brand recognition among our patients. My branding mission also resulted in a complete redesign of our business cards. We switched from thin and plain paper to thick card stock with gloss. Our logo shows in vibrant color, and a mini near-eye chart resides on the back of the card, which has been proven to be a great talking point among recipients.
The second point for improvement I noticed was that our office needed to feel more welcoming and inviting. Adding the electronic picture frame in our reception area allows both patient education and welcome slides to play on a loop, which provide a relief from reading a magazine or looking at a phone when a patient sits in the reception area. Brochures that detail the services our office offers, and pens with our name on them, have also been added to the front desk. Patients are encouraged to take these materials with them upon exiting.
Piggybacking on the patient education slides via the electronic picture frame, I realized patient education material would make a great decorative addition to our technology room (the room where our OCT, Optos, and visual field are housed). The room was looking bland, so we decided to decorate the walls. Rather than fill it with fine art and paintings, like the rest of our office, we decided to hang posters of eye conditions and anatomy.
Listen to Your Patients
Patient feedback is vital in any changes you make to your practice, including office environment. It is an important aspect in practice building to gauge decisions based on how your patients react to changes. Always remember that patients are the lifeblood of your practice!
The way that we like to get patient feedback is through direct communication. This could involve a staff member, or me, asking patients how they feel about certain changes.
We keep a sort of “focus group” of patients who have been with the practice for a long time and/or patients who contribute substantially to our revenue via purchase or referral. We have also sent post-exam surveys out via e-mail.
Getting an opinion from patients upfront before making changes can save headaches and lost revenue down the road.
For example, when I wrote a new script for our phone recalls to patients, we benefited from patient input. Before using the script, one of our receptionists asked a few of our patients for their opinions on it. The patients felt it was a bit too pushy (similar to a local corporate competitor that had been getting poor reviews due to aggressive recalls) and suggested more relaxed language. If we had not had that feedback prior to making calls, we may have ended up in the same situation as that competitor.
Get Staff Feedback
Changing frame lines was something that our opticians noticed we needed. Due to the huge industry boom in technology (since our practice is in the Silicon Valley), a large portion of our new patients are mid 20s-30s, male, and have careers in engineering. Our opticians realized that our frame selections for that demographic were limited, so we switched out a few lines. After doing this, we have seen a decrease in patients filling their spectacle prescriptions at other offices, and an increase in our optical sales. Make sure you analyze your patient base to ensure you are offering products that they want (and products that are marketed to them as a group).
Set Aside Money for Needed Improvements & Ongoing Maintenance
Major ongoing office environment expenses include cleaning, supplying marketing materials like brochures and business cards and maintaining climate. We keep our office temperature in the mid-70s, which I read in “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” by Paco Underhill is an optimal temperature for shopping.
How do we keep these costs down? Well, let’s start with cleaning the office. When I initially took over, we had a cleaning service charging us around $100 per visit. On closer observation, I realized they were doing about 20 minutes of work. I decided to discontinue the service and do the work myself. I may be in the small minority in this, but I believe that cleaning the office myself once a week allows me to observe the office and constantly, and consistently, check for ways to make it better. A lot of changes that I have made aesthetically have come to me while vacuuming an area, or cleaning a counter top.
For marketing materials, like business cards, I use an online do-it-yourself web site to make all our materials. This has proven to be much less expensive than going to a printer for this type of work.
As for climate control, open windows if you can on comfortably warm days, and close doors and windows on uncomfortably hot and cold days, so you don’t waste your air conditioning or heating. Use fans and space heaters, if necessary, to keep patients comfortable while keeping your costs down.