By Ryan Hungate, DDS, MS
April 13, 2022
Your patients need an annual comprehensive eye exam, and many will buy eyewear and contact lenses during that visit. The question is how to get them to visit your practice regularly for their annual check-up and potential purchases. Here are a few tips based on my experience as a dentist, who successfully gets patients to return every six months to my office.
Create a Healthy Habit
Many people visit dentists like clockwork every six months because it is an accepted part of their lifelong routine. Optometrists can do the same by educating people at a young age about the importance of an annual exam. That can be made easier if an annual visit to the eye doctor becomes a routine set in place by a patient’s parents and practitioner.
Messaging parents multiple times a year reminds them that their child should visit for an exam each year to safeguard their eye health and vision. This messaging also helps establish a lifelong habit.
Let Patients Know What Is At Stake
Patients visit the dentist frequently because they understand what they could lose if they don’t. They have been taught since childhood that not going to the dentist could result in tooth decay and tooth loss. Not to mention the pain and less-than-desirable byproducts that can result from not visiting the dentist regularly.
Optometrists should educate patients what can happen if they don’t visit every year for an exam. Let them know about the eye diseases, like macular degeneration and glaucoma, that can sneak up on them to steal their sight if they are not diligent.
Fear is a powerful motivator. The key messaging needs to be about prevention and health. Buyers respond to a fear of loss versus a desire to gain. Optometrists need to develop clear messaging about eye health and how patients can prevent conditions that decrease their quality of life.
Keep Them Coming Back
There was a time, not long ago, when healthcare providers had just two forms of communication for recall–phone calls and postcards. Today, you have the ability to text and e-mail recall messaging, in addition to setting up automated phone messages.
Texting patients is by far the most effective means of reaching your patients. Text messages have a 98 percent open rate. Most people will read a text message within 90 seconds of receiving it and 45 percent of text messages will receive a response.i., ii. iii
Dentists are regularly using text messages to reach their patients and get them to come back. One of the best ways to let patients know it’s time for a visit is to send a text that reminds them they are due for an exam or treatment and include a link that allows them to book an appointment right away. You can make it easy for them to to schedule an appointment by including a link to your website where they book an appointment via live chat (not a bot) or schedule directly with an online scheduling platform.
Meet Patients Where They Are
Dentists understand the importance of meeting patients where they are. Patients today don’t want to wait until business hours to get their questions answered. They are doing their own research online and they want answers 24/7. By including live chat on your website you can answer their questions and easily convert website visitors into booked appointments.
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I started using live chat in my practice and found that patients are more likely to schedule an appointment if they can easily correspond with the practice. When a patient visits your site and is not able to quickly get a simple question answered, they often become frustrated and look for another provider. Seventy-seven percent of patients think having the ability to book online is important.iv
Some websites will include a chatbot, but at the end of the day, nothing can replicate a human touch. I have found live chat so important in patient communication that I developed a live chat technology solution that I use in my own office, and have made available to other practitioners, Simplifeye. This live chat solution is monitored by a highly-trained team of chatters who can answer patients’ questions and act as an extension of your front-desk team.
Here are benefits of live chat that I have discovered first-hand:
• It creates a database of potential patients, which is a great resource for filling open chair time.
• It creates a record of what patients are interested in – including services, appointment times requested, etc. This can lead the practice to identify areas of improvement such as adding services or adjusting hours to meet demand.
• It can screen potential patients and let people know whether the service they need is provided by the practice.
• It saves the front-desk team hours on the phone because the live chat team can gather all the relevant appointment details, including their contact information, insurance details, reason for the visit and time they wish to visit. Then, all the front-desk team needs to do is book the patient at the date and time that works best.
• It lessens the workload of the front-desk team and makes them bionic, which frees up time for their other tasks. It cuts down on voicemails, and does work for your staff returning calls, so they can use that time to serve patients.
• Live chat increases new patients because it’s immediately capturing people at the moment they’re researching an optometrist. It removes the barrier of requiring them to take additional steps like picking up the phone to call or filling out a form.
• It gives practices a competitive edge. Practices can promote they have 24/7 patient access in their advertising and on social media. They can also set up their Facebook instant messenger response to redirect people to their website for immediate assistance.
Multifaceted Approach that Leverages Technology
Educating patients of the importance of an annual exam for both themselves and their children is the first step. Start by setting up regular messaging via social media, e-mail and texts. Make it easy for patients to reach you by adding live chat to your practice website. When you implement technology that allows patients to schedule an appointment, reorder contact lenses and get questions answered, they are more likely to make an appointment to visit and stick with you long-term. In the end, think about how you want to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Do you really want to be forced to call? Or would you rather be able to make an appointment at your convenience?