Patient Experience

4 Transformational Principles that Built a Practice with an 80% Patient Return Rate

By Thomas P. Arnold, OD, FSLS

Feb. 10, 2021

Managing vision care is the unique mission of eyecare professionals. However, optometry is also a service industry. As practitioners, we strive to provide the highest level of optometric/professional/medical care, but we cannot forget that with each patient encounter we are also creating an experience. What can we learn from other service industries? Here are a few tips gleaned from observation of what works, and doesn’t, in businesses outside of optometry.

People Before Computers, Smartphones & All Other Devices
I recall checking in to an upscale, expensive hotel in Dallas years ago for a conference. Even though I was the only person who approached the reception desk, none of the staff members looked up from their computer screens to greet me. When I announced my presence, no one bothered to look up and welcome me. They were more interested in their computers.“We will be with you in a minute,” I recall a young man saying.

In our office there are two receptionists/cashiers. When a patient enters our practice, at least one of them stands, smiles and greets them with a hearty “Hello and welcome to Memorial Eye Center. May I please have your name?” Our receptionist tries to use the patient’s name in conversation several times. It is a well-known tenet of sales that the sweetest word in any language is a person’s name. Using the patient’s name validates them and helps to connect with them as a human being, not just another number.

Apparently British Airways agrees with this. My daughter and her family live in Scotland, so we are frequent travelers. When boarding, the flight attendant always looks at the boarding pass and never fails to give a warm “Welcome, Dr. Arnold. So happy to see you back.” Even though intellectually I know this is nothing more than salesmanship, it still makes me feel special.

Cleanliness is a Virtue
Think of your office like a restaurant. Would you sit at a table that had not been cleaned? A table with dirty plates and crumpled napkins? How would you feel if the restroom was a mess?

Your office is no different. A patient may not appreciate whether you can tell the difference between a normal optic nerve and a glaucomatous one, but they recognize a dirty bathroom, trash cans that are overflowing or a stack of outdated magazines. These are metrics that your patients understand and judge you by.

I tell our staff that the contact lens dispensing tables (we have three made from beautiful black granite) are just like restaurant tables. Therefore, we clean off contact lens foil packs, paper towels and tissues and wipe them clean of spilled solutions after every patient. These are our “restaurant” tables.

“People Do Not Care How Much You Know Until They Know How Much You Care”
This quote, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, still rings true today. Optometry is a people profession. To best serve our patients, we need their engagement and cooperation. We need to “connect.” Unlike professions such as radiology, anesthesiology or surgery, our patients need to talk to us. It is incumbent on the OD to establish a dialogue that is comfortable for the patient and encourages the free flow of information.

I start every exam with a face-to-face chitchat to put the patient at ease. By face-to-face I mean eye contact and a posture that conveys openness and receptivity. I don’t fiddle with my EHR device or scribble notes. If I know the patient, I will start with something meaningful to them such as in their hobbies, latest travel experience, pets or children. If they’re an avid reader or enjoy music, I will ask them about their latest book or musical discovery. Anything that recognizes them as a person, not just another pair of eyeballs.

If I can find something to genuinely compliment… article of clothing, new shoes, hairstyle or unique t-shirt, I will do so. However, one must be careful that the compliment is sincere and not making fun of the regarded object. Again, it makes the patient feel good when you acknowledge their uniqueness.

Remember Telephone Etiquette
Even in this era of texts, patient portals and e-mail, people still call and want to talk to a real person. Over my many years of practice, dealing with all sorts of businesses, including other professional offices, it never ceases to annoy me when the call is answered followed immediately by “Will you please hold?” Then click and you find yourself in telephone purgatory.

The correct way to answer the call, even when busy, is to ask the caller if they mind being placed on hold and wait for a verbal response. In some cases, it is simply a matter of transferring the caller to another extension, answering a brief question (“What time do you close?”), or letting the patient know they will be called back shortly. Personally speaking, there is nothing more rude than putting a patient on hold without further explanation.

Key Takeaway
These tips cost nothing to implement, but can have a big impact on the success of the practice. As our office enters its 29th year, we are heartened that 80 percent of our patients have previously visited our office. I saw a young man this week, a successful computer programmer for Microsoft, who I started seeing when he was four years old. As a “senior” myself, I regularly see the grandchildren of patients who were not even married when they first came to me many years ago.

A consistent, established patient base is an annuity that pays dividends year after year. Integrating these tips into your office culture may bring you the same degree of success and satisfaction. Good luck!

Thomas P. Arnold, OD, FSLS, is a partner with Memorial Eye Center at Sugar Land, with multiple locations in Texas. To contact him:

To Top
Subscribe Today for Free...
And join more than 35,000 optometric colleagues who have made Review of Optometric Business their daily business advisor.