By Clint Taylor, OD
May 12, 2021
We want our patients to have positive, memorable experiences at our offices. To reach this goal, any negative or unpleasant components of the patient visit must be identified and addressed. These “patient pain points” can ruin the patient experience, and can slow practice growth.
Here are three patient pain points my staff and I have identified, and the changes we have made to improve our patients’ experience.
These changes have resulted in a strong rate of return patients and many friends and family referrals. In 2020, 82 percent of the patients we saw had previously visited our practice. Of the 18 percent who were new, I would estimate that 90 percent were from word-of-mouth referrals.
Confusing & Overwhelming Product Options
When I first bought my practice, we carried too many frame lines, we used a variety of contact lens vendors and we used three different labs. Over the years, we have made a concerted effort to pare down to fewer frame lines, one or two contact lens vendors and a single lab for the vast majority of our lens products.
Carrying fewer products enables our staff to be experts on the products we carry. They can concentrate on learning the history behind each frame line, where they are made and the unique manufacturing details (material, hinge design, etc.) of each line. They can learn the science behind the contacts we use, from oxygen permeability to wettability. And they can (and must) know every detail about each lens design, material and lens treatment I prescribe. By being experts on our products, our staff can educate our patients about what we are offering, be confident in recommending those products and effectively troubleshoot when problems arise.
Simplifying product offerings also increases profitability two ways. First, discounts and rebates may be available from frame, contact lens and spectacle lens vendors or alliance groups when a practice uses more of their products. By using fewer products, practices will use more of each product, which gives them greater buying power and increases profit margins. Second, by limiting the products a practice uses, new staff members will be able to learn the products much more quickly, cutting down on training time and improving staff efficiency.
Staff and doctors have to be on board with the long-term goal of simplification. Each team member likely has their favorite frame line, contact lens, lens design, AR coating, etc. Getting staff to buy in to the reasons why the practice is paring down its offerings is vital. For that reason, when deciding which product lines to cut out and which ones to keep, get the entire staff’s input. Final decisions should be based on what products are best for the patient and for the practice.
With many vendors offering a wide variety of products, there is no reason for a practice not to simplify. All of the major contact lens manufacturers offer terrific products that will probably work for the vast majority of patients. So, pick one or two companies and use their products for most of your patients. The same is true with labs. Each lab will offer products that will fit most of your patients’ visual needs. Pick one lab and use them.
Simplifying is a win-win for the practice and for patients.The practice benefits by having higher profit margins, shorter staff training times and increased staff product knowledge. Patients win by dealing with more knowledgeable staff and buying products the practice fully believes in.
Perception of Expensive Pricing
Alleviating patient concerns about pricing comes down to three things: education, transparency and reselling.
First, patients must be educated on your services and products. Each test must be explained to them, and they must be shown how your services are different from what they would be getting elsewhere for a cheaper price. Similarly, the benefits of the products they are buying at your office must be stressed, and patients must be taught how your products are different from what they would be buying at a discount chain or online.
Second, pricing must be transparent. Exam prices should be relayed to the patient before the exam when possible. Product prices should be discussed as patients are considering staff product recommendations. The goal here is to avoid “sticker shock” at check out, which can turn a pleasant patient experience into a horrible one.
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Third, the staff needs to resell the products when patients pick them up. If a patient is picking up glasses, the staff member dispensing the glasses should highlight the craftsmanship of the frame, the visual benefits of the lenses and warranties. This reassures the patient that they made a smart purchase and calms any buyer’s remorse they may have.
Overcoming price objections takes an investment in time. It takes more time to educate a patient about the tests performed instead of just “running them through” an exam. It also takes more time to educate patients about products and then to resell them at dispensing. But being able to overcome price objections makes these time investments well worth it.
Higher prices must be justified. Practices can’t hike prices without providing value and educating patients about that value. And value needs to be constantly added. At our practice, we’re always looking for ways to improve the patient experience and customize our product offerings. We want patients to feel that, even though they may pay a little more at our office, it’s still a better value than some of our cheaper competitors.
However, practices should resist the temptation to “nickel and dime” patients. Don’t have a separate charge for little things – instead build them into your exam and product fees.
Long Product Turnaround Times
We have no control over external factors that affect manufacturing, shipping and other links in the supply chain. But we do our best in our practice to take care of internal factors that play a role in the speed of product delivery. Glasses orders are always processed the same day patients order them, so the lab has the necessary information to get started on the job as soon as possible. Same with contacts – all orders are placed the same business day that they are ordered by the patient.
Our staff keeps a record of the glasses orders that were placed and when exactly each order was placed. That way, when a job is taking longer than expected, we can contact the lab for a status update. If there is a significant delay, our staff contacts the patient to tell them why.
Patients are consumers, and consumers are living in an age of two-day (or next day) shipping. The Amazons of the world have led consumers to expect faster product delivery, and patients who purchase glasses or contacts are no different. By doing everything we can do expedite product delivery, we meet, and hopefully exceed, patient expectations. This leads to loyal patients and word-of-mouth referrals.
For patients to be happy, they need to get the products they order from your office in a reasonable amount of time. Happy patients refer other patients, so making sure orders are delivered on time has a direct impact on profitability. Ensuring glasses and contact lens orders are running on time requires a time commitment from staff. Team members need to track placed orders and contact the lab and/or patients when necessary. But the time spent on these tasks is one of the costs of doing business in a high-service practice. Staff needs to be trained on the importance of timeliness. It helps to have the office manager oversee these tasks to create accountability.
Communication is the key. Communicating with the lab will help ensure that glasses orders are completed on time with no jobs falling through the cracks. And communicating with patients when there is a delay goes a long way toward keeping patients satisfied.
Clint Taylor, OD, is the owner of Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, Ill., a one-OD, one-location practice with eight support-staff members that delivered about 3,000 comprehensive eye exams in 2019. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org