6 Actions We Take to Maintain a 75-80% Patient Return Rate

The outside of Dr. Crooker’s office. She says that the practice thinks and acts strategically to build long-term relationships with patients.

By Jessica Crooker, OD

August 3, 2022

The focus in building a practice is often solely on adding new patients. Growth of new patients is important, but it’s also critically important to retain the patients you currently have and ensure they return for care.

Over the past five years, we have maintained a 75-80 percent returning patient rate. In fact, we recently hired another doctor to keep up with patient demand! Despite COVID, which had a major impact on small businesses, my team and I have been able to encourage most of our patients to return to our office every year. Here are the most effective things we do in our practice to make that happen.

Educate Patients About Why They Should Return Yearly
We all experienced various levels of stay-at-home orders due to COVID, and let’s be honest, many of us delayed and/or are just now catching up on medical appointments. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to educate and empower your patients on the importance of vision care and how it impacts their overall health and well-being. Educate your patients on the importance of an annual exam and set them up for success before they start experiencing eye health and visual challenges.

If a patient has been diagnosed with a condition such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, dry eye, or another medical eyecare issue, and you have prescribed return office visits for observation and treatment, let patients know what is at stake. Educate them on threats to their sight and quality of life.

Making “Doing Business” With You Easy
Your patients need to have a positive experience with your practice. Today’s patients expect concierge-style services that accommodate their schedule and needs rather than the other way around. They want unique offerings that make them feel like they are getting priority care and have access on-demand to the products you sell.

As a practice owner, you need to identify your practice’s concierge-style services, and lean into those offerings. Your staff can provide these services (e.g. how your front-desk staff greets and treats patients, how your doctors provide medical expertise and instill trust in patients) and/or the technology within your practice can provide these services.

For example, when I started using MARLO, Alcon’s contact lens ordering platform, I was providing a new service to patients, which allowed them to experience the convenience of contact lens order reminders and notifications, while also having 24/7 access to contact lens ordering from our office with the click of a button.

Editor’s Note: MARLO is a digital platform that allows patients to order Alcon contact lenses from their doctors. Platforms by other contact lens manufacturers and distributors are also available, including Abby from ABB Optical Group, LensFerry from CooperVision and CLX, among other options.

If a patient is running low on their contact lens supply, MARLO will send a message, which reminds them they’re getting close to their last box of contact lenses and they are due for an exam. From there, patients can choose to reach out to my practice directly to schedule an appointment.

Life gets busy, and patients have different communication styles and preferences, so I’ve found that a multiple touch-point approach (text, e-mail and phone communications) is the best way to connect with your patients and prompt them to return for care.

Combine Old Techniques With Technology to Empower Recall
Automated customer communication via Demandforce is our most important tool for scheduling appointment reminders. This service sends an automated text message to patients a month before they’re due for an appointment, and then reminds patients multiple times that they have a scheduled appointment coming up, so they don’t forget. After each appointment, patients are sent an automated e-mail, which thanks them for coming in and gives them an opportunity provide feedback on their overall experience on a 1-5 star rating system.

Editor’s Note: There are many patient communications systems to choose from. Other choices include Weave, Solutionreach and Simplifeye, among others.

Offers like this one, advertised in a local magazine, Life on the Bay, encourages patients to return to the office for care and purchases, Dr. Crooker says.

In addition to e-mails and texts, we send postcard reminders, which we ask our patients to fill out when they are in the office. We temporarily stopped doing this (to reduce touch-points and COVID germ transmission), and to our surprise, our patients asked us if (and when) the postcards were coming back because they liked them so much! E-mail reminders can easily get lost in the online shuffle, so the physical reminder (and patients seeing their own handwriting in the mail) is something they really appreciate.

Train Staff to Be Customer Service-Oriented
No matter where a patient is in the office or what they’re doing (engaging with our front-desk staff, seeing a doctor, trying on frames or doing anything else), they should be promptly taken care of and made to feel welcomed. With that in mind, there are a few best practices that I train our staff to embrace. I ask staff to smile while answering and talking on the phone. As the first patient touch-point, we never want to sound negative, too busy or seem like we’re having a bad day – patients can pick up on that even when they can’t see you. Smiling while talking makes a person sound more upbeat.

I also train our staff to be mindful of how they’re indirectly interacting with patients in the office. What I mean is if a staff member is standing around and/or talking to a colleague and a patient walks by, that indirect patient interaction could impact the overall patient experience. The patient may feel like they’re going unnoticed, or the patient might think our staff is too chatty/doesn’t have enough work. The behavior our patients observe matters, so it’s important that employees have self-awareness about how their actions impact our patients, even when they’re not directly engaging with patients.

Advertise in Local Media
We found a lot of success placing ads in Life on the Bay, our neighborhood’s local magazine, where we notify our community about special promotions, remind patients about eye exams and more. Don’t underestimate the power of local news and community forums. Print ads and local news might seem antiquated, but we’ve generated many repeat visits from these ads. When we have a new patient, the front desk asks patients how they heard about us, and we have had many who say Life on the Bay brought them in. Patients also sometimes proactively tell us will tell us they saw our “picture” (ad) in Life on the Bay.

Frequently Update Your Practice Social Media Accounts
We use social media, primarily Facebook and Instagram, to share office updates (e.g. staff trainings, new hires, culture outings and other practice happenings) to enable patients to feel more connected to our office. It’s a nice touch-point and friendly, indirect reminder to patients that we’re open, doing business and here if they need anything!

Jessica Crooker, OD, is the owner of Scituate Harbor Vision Source in Massachusetts. To contact her:

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