Insights From Our Editors

How Soon Can Your Patients Schedule an Appointment with You?

Most people have a week’s wait for an appointment with their eye doctor, according to Jobson Optical Research’s 2013 Waiting Game report. Some 31.4 percent of respondents reported about a week’s wait for an appointment, while 26 percent said their eye doctor could work them in as soon as two to three days later. Some 15.6 percent said they typically need to wait two weeks for an appointment, while 14 percent said they usually need to wait longer than two weeks. Some 12.9 percent said their eye doctor can typically take them the same or next day.

Click HERE to purchase Jobson Optical Research’s 2013 Waiting Game report.

Are patients leaving you because it took too long to get in to see you?

Waiting too long for an appointment can be a negative patient experience. After the event occurs, there is no way to fix this problem for the patient. The event is over. You cannot go back and change history. This counts as an unresolved negative experience. In the book “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner, it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. The question we need to answer is, after a lengthy wait to get in to see you, will your patients give you 12 more chances to make up for the negative experience or, for their next visit, will they simply pick up the phone and call a practice that can get them in sooner?

Leading up to making an appointment, the patient is thinking about an eye exam. Once the appointment is made, the patient is still thinking about an eye exam appointment. During this window of time, your patient is even more aware of eye marketing messages. The longer the wait, the more impact the eyecare marketing messages have.

Here are the numbers. Your patients are receiving around 600 marketing messages per day from all sources on all topics. Of those 600 marketing messages, the average person pays attention to about 76. Marketers believe that it takes five marketing impressions to get someone to make a move toward a purchase.

Pre-appointment is one way to address this issue. But what about those people who just call the office? How can we address those situations? It requires a five-step process.

Step 1. Measure to manage. Measure the average number of days from the time someone calls your office until they get in to see you. For the next week have your staff keep track of these numbers. If your average wait time is greater than one week, then it is time to move to the next steps.

Let’s put the Jobson Optical Research’s 2013 Waiting Game report data into a chart with a space for you to identify the average wait time in your practice for an appointment.

Step 2. Examine your schedule. Do you have holes in your schedule where changing the schedule would solve the wait time problem? In today’s world, patients have many options. It’s all about the patient. We need to make sure we are open when the patients want to be seen. This can require a paradigm shift for some practice owners.

Step 3. Do a time and motion study of your office flow. Measure how long a patient spends at each stop as they move through your practice. Include at least these events:

• How long from the time the patient enters the office before they move to pretest?
• How long is the patient at pre-test?
• How long does the patient spend in the exam room?
• How long does the patient spend in the optical?
• How long does the patient spend waiting in each of the above areas?
• Are the times patients spend at each position relatively equal?

Did you discover any problems you can fix to improve your office flow? If you make those improvements, does it give you the ability to see one more patient in the morning and one more patient in the afternoon? Seeing two more patients per day for five days a week for 48 weeks a year gives you the ability to see 480 additional patients. That translates to seeing more patients sooner and adding about $150,000 to the practice gross revenue.

Step 4. Is it better to add additional staff or bring in another doctor? The difference between adding additional staff members or adding another doctor is a practice strategic decision. This involves the practice’s long-term goals. This also involves the doctor-owner’s exit strategy. Making this decision is essential.

Step 5. Implement. Sometimes this is the hardest step. When a practice is in crisis management mode instead of planned strategic management mode, it’s hard to see beyond the crisis. Putting out fires consumes all available time and the viewpoint becomes “I don’t have the time to do this.” The reality is, you must make the time to do this. If you don’t do something different, the underlying problem will not get solved.

What’s the key? It’s essential to make the time to get this done.

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