By Michael Cymbor, OD, FAAO
March 29, 2017
Over the last 10 years, our four-location, nine-OD practice in Pennsylvania has leveraged four key improvements to our web site to enhance service to patients, and in the process, spur growth and profitability.
Appointment Booking Capability
As of late 2016, our patients are able to make an appointment without having to pick up a phone. Patients can select the date, and then specify whether they prefer morning or afternoon. Then, later that same day, they receive a secure e-mail from our office giving the patient a choice of specific time slots. The patient confirms the specific time slot they want by e-mailing back, and they then get a confirmation e-mail of their reserved day and time.
We haven’t marketed the availability of online appointment booking yet, other than featuring a place to click for an appointment on our site, and yet patients are reaching out to make appointments this way, with an average of five patients per day choosing to make their appointment online. We plan this year to begin marketing the ability to book online with a link to make an appointment included in recall texts and e-mail messages.
In addition to generating appointments that might not otherwise come to us, with some patients who can’t easily schedule an appointment online perhaps choosing another practice that gives them that ability, online appointment booking saves my staff time. When a patient calls in to schedule an exam, it can take five or six minutes of staff time, as they engage the patient in what sometimes becomes a long conversation to obtain the simple information of what day and time the patient would like to come in.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At 2,000 exams/year for solo practice, this save 167 hours. Receptionist @$13.13/hr= $2,188 annual savings. (MBA averages). This practice has 9 ODs, 4 locations. Huge savings, maybe $20k. Their cost is $12k. Works for a large practice.
Adding the ability for patients to make an appointment online was part of a site updating we did last year through iMatrix that cost us just $100 upfront, thanks to special pricing we obtained at the Academy of Optometry meeting, and then $100 per month to maintain. iMatrix had a ready-made, off-the-shelf web site template that they uploaded our practice information and photos onto, and the template included online booking functionality, so no additional expense was incurred.
Online CL Ordering
Consumers–including our patients–can buy nearly anything online, including contact lenses. If you’re not giving patients the ability to easily order contacts from your practice web site, many will look for another site to order from.
Seven years ago, my practice made it possible for patients to order contacts from us on our site. Our patients can save their credit card information on a data-encrypted, secure page on our site, so that they can just click a few buttons to order a new supply of their contacts.
Patients first place their order for contacts on our site, and then get an automated e-mail from us thanking them for ordering from us, and letting them know we will look at their vision insurance, and the type of contact lenses they will be ordering, to determine the final cost. The patient is then sent an e-mail letting them know what the cost will be once their insurance and specific contact lens brand has been factored in. The patient then sends an e-mail back confirming that they would like to purchase at that price. The credit card information they entered on the secure page on our site, or which we have on file, is then charged, with an electronic receipt sent to the patient.
We currently have one employee for our whole practice (counting all four locations), whose only job it is to handle the back-end work of online contact lens transactions. We pay her about $16 per hour, and across all our locations, we do over a $1 million annually in contact lens sales. My feeling is once your annual contact lens sales hit the $500,000 mark, it makes sense to have at least one person on staff focused on facilitating and managing contact lens sales. We are currently evaluating the possibility of adding another staff member, and also, whether a technology upgrade would be worthwhile to make the online ordering process more automated, without as much work on the back end. Depending on the technology we add, that additional staff person may not be necessary.
Link to Patient Portal on Practice Web Site
Patient portals, in which patients are able to easily access their medical records, are a part of every electronic health record system that meets Meaningful Use standards. In fact, to meet MU requirements, you have to demonstrate use of your patient portal. However, some practices don’t make it easy for patients to find their patient portal.
When we updated our site last year with iMatrix, we added a link on our homepage that patients could click on to be taken to our patient portal, where they can log in with a username and password to be taken to a secure site to view their medical records, and communicate with our staff. There was no additional expense to make the patient portal accessible through our practice web site.
It takes our staff 8-10 minutes to take a thorough history from patients, or sometimes that much time for the patient to fill out the patient history form themselves. If we can get more patients to click on the patient portal on our practice web site and fill out the form prior to their appointment, it will speed up the patient’s total time in our office, leaving more time for them to browse in the optical, and possibly allow us time to see one additional patient per day.
When patients call, or e-mail, for an appointment, we now give them the option of giving us their personal information via an online form accessed through the patient portal.
Link to Social Media on Practice Web Site
We have over 2,600 likes on our practice Facebook page, which we leverage to promote special events, like sales, or the introduction of new contact lenses or glasses, or a practice enhancement like the addition of new equipment.
We include links on our practice homepage to our pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, encouraging patients to become our “friends,” or to follow us.
Building a social media following by advertising links to your social media pages on your practice web site gives you a cost effective way to promote your practice and products. For example, this year we did a frames trunk show, advertising it just on social media, and with e-mail blasts to our patient base. We posted news and information to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that the trunk show was coming, the kinds of products that would be sold, and the savings available on those products. This marketing cost us just $100 total (spent on paid advertising on Facebook), instead of the $3,000-$4,000 we spent in the past to promote trunk shows via traditional print media, like local newspapers and magazines. The show generated $60,000 in frames and lens sales.