By Gina M. Wesley, OD, MS, FAAO
Making patients comfortable–from making registration fast and easy to offering refreshments in your optical–can generate referrals. Pay attention to small details.
The first priority of optometrists is to address the eye health and vision needs of patients. Keeping patient’s eyes and vision in good shape is the basis of our profession, but doing that alone won’t win you returning patients who are excited enough about their experience to refer others. My staff and I have thought carefully about what patients need to be comfortable during their visit. We have thought even more about ways to create a patient experience worth talking about.
Little Things to Simplify
Patient history and lifestyle questionnaire
Optical shop browsing and purchase
Insurance payment; help understanding benefits
Pre-appointing/planning for next appointment
Any regimens or instructions prescribed by the doctor
Little Things to Pay Attention To
Your office and optical’s appearance–first impressions
How long patients must wait once at the office
Patient comfort during dilation
The refreshments available for patients
Reading materials and other in-office diversion
Comfort of the seating and amount of available seating
Bonus treats like chocolates
Gift baskets for special patients such as those who refer
Make a Good First Impression
Patients are greeted by my staff immediately upon entering at our front desk. Our practice logo is on the wall behind our front desk in a beautiful metal finish to add to the luxury feel. Adjacent to the front desk, we have very comfortable seating that, when sat in, faces not only our optical, but a high-definition flat screen TV where they can watch loops of educational material, as well as my TV appearances on a local station. The chairs are all arm chairs so no one is “sharing” a seat with anyone. There also is a children’s corner with books and games.
Make Registration Easy
We give our patients iPads to electronically sign documents. We have made the forms into PDFs that people can then sign with their fingertips or check boxes off with their fingers. We pull it up for them and show them how to scroll if they don’t know how. We also load the iPad with educational material specific to each patient. For instance, if we know a patient is here for their first contact lens fitting, we hand them the iPad with the initial insertion and removal education as well as how to clean the lenses. That way they have this contact lens starter information before they even get to the fitting in the exam lane. Or we use the iPad to educate patients about the nutrition information and quality of supplements we offer in our office. For this education material, we use LUMA from Eyemaginations. We use this software on all computers throughout the office. The cost for four years of complete coverage and licensing was about $3,000. The iPad also can be used to take pictures of people with their eyeglasses on in the optical and then e-mail those pictures to themselves or their friends for advice. We have three iPads. The cost for those iPads was around $2,500.
Break Down Pricing for Patients
Patients are surprised and appreciate that pricing for products and services is immediately ready when they step out of the exam lane. The only cost: The paper we write down the pricing information on. We have all contact lens pricing ready for review at the end of the exam, so there is no waiting for calculations. We also do this for eyeglasses, especially for our vision plan patients. This is all done while I’m in the exam room with the patient. Because we have an electronic health records system, my staff can see what contact lenses I’m fitting or which eyeglasses I’m recommending and price from there.
Build Safety Into Product Investment
We offer a contact lens guarantee in our office. This means if there’s an Rx change, defective lens or a patient needs a trial lens or two to make it to their next exam, we will exchange lenses or provide new ones to them at no charge. Cost: very little. We sometimes have to pay a minimal cost if a patient has opened a box and we can’t return it, but usually reps are very good about working with us so we don’t have to pay.
Lessen Dilation Discomfort
We use the weakest dilating drops we can with each patient, and really educate the patient as to why we need to dilate. Actually, we’ve started putting disposable daily contact lenses on their eyes for them so they can see better when in the optical after their exam, which helps with their comfort and actually boosts our contact lens fits. Those lenses are removed before they leave, and we then reschedule them for a fitting if they choose. We offer complimentary disposable sunglasses for when they leave, as well.
Optical Dispensary Niceties Beyond Just Displaying Frames
I think having enough staff in the optical dispensary is critical to be sure you aren’t short-changing the patient when educating them about their eyewear options. We use high-technology lenses and the Visioffice for fitting (a computerized instrument that takes specific measurements while patients are wearing their eyeglasses), so we must have the capability and time to inform the patients about that, and that requires adequate staffing. We try to have unique displays that showcase the frames in an obvious grouping style, but in an attractive way so there is no question as to who those eyeglasses are meant for. We position our lighting to showcase the displays as well as to create a flattering view for those who try them on.
A Sweet Surprise Doesn’t Hurt
We offer patients a premium chocolate when their finished eyeglasses are dispensed. The chocolate is little, but patients really seem to like it! We ran out once for a couple of days and patients asked where the chocolate went. Cost to pleasantly surprise: About 25 cents per chocolate.
Constantly Improve for Enhanced Comfort–Ask Your Patients for Guidance
We send electronic surveys to our patients after their eye exams, which helps us to know of any problems, changes that could be made, etc. The most common comments on surveys have to do with pricing (too high or not high enough…..I know, go figure!) I also ask my patients and encourage my staff to ask them how we could better their experience in our office. For instance, we brought a new lens technology to the office that wasn’t covered by one of our vision plans, it was just available at a discount. As a result, patients who had that vision plan and purchased that lens were confused when they got their EOB’s as to how much they paid. So, because of that feedback, we created a modification to our invoicing system that adequately reflected the pricing and what the patient paid, and we haven’t had any comments or complaints about it since.
Listen to Your Staff
Staff is crucial to helping the doctor understand what can be better done for patients. Because they interact with patients much longer than I do in any given experience, they know best what can be done to improve efficiencies or patient comfort. One example would be bringing in the iPads. Now, although a patient may be waiting for me in the exam room, the perception of their time having waited is much more enjoyable because they are entertained by our educational material or the electronic games they can play. That suggestion was made by a staff member who had happily experienced iPads at her own doctor’s office.
Try Your Office From Your Patient’s Perspective
I think every doctor and their staff should enter their office and go through the motions of an exam from a patient’s perspective. Are your reception chairs comfortable? What do the patients see or hear when they are sitting there? There’s nothing more unprofessional than overhearing staff talking about personal issues, or dealing with a private patient inquiry over the phone. I try to limit what I call our “backstage” processes as to what comes “onstage” (i.e. what the patient sees and hears). I also recommend that staff and doctors sit in the exam room chairs so they can see what a patient sees in regard to the room: cleanliness, wall signage, instruments, point of purchase marketing, etc.
Enhanced Comfort = Enhanced Loyalty
We have only been open for four and a half years, but I know the vast majority–I estimate 70 percent–of our patients have stayed with us. It’s interesting, I know most doctors wouldn’t ever want to lose a patient to a competitor, but I sometimes welcome it for the “doubting” patient. We’ve have had several instances of a family or individual patient going somewhere else one year because they were trying to find a better deal, etc., and they then came running back the next year, realizing what we offer in terms of the exam, service and products have much more value, thoroughness, and a greater level of customer service. These are now my most loyal patients!
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