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Integrating the various arms of your eye care practice starts with understanding your patients’ needs. At the heart of integrating your business is patient communication. All areas of your practice must work together to communicate, both visually and verbally, what services you provide and what products you offer throughout the short time a patient is in your office for an encounter.
Patients are continually forming impressions about your staff, your practice, and you, their eye care provider, from the time they decide to seek your services until the time they leave your office. The best way to control this constant, continuous flow of subjective, emotional responses is to perform an influence-point analysis on your practice.
The main goals of an influence-point analysis can be described as follows:
• identify each of the patient interaction points in a representative office visit;
• analyze what occurs at each point; and
• develop a standard protocol for each of these “moments of truth.”
In an influence-point analysis, therefore, you must identify each element in the physical environment of your practice and decide on the best actions and words for your staff to optimize the patient experience at each point.
DON’T JUST PERFORM THE PROCEDURE
The goal of this effort is to have each patient feel as though he or she is the only one in the office, no matter how hectic it may be. If you achieve this, you have succeeded in engineering the patient experience. In order for this to happen, all staff members must be fully engaged in the concept.
During the patient’s trip through the office for an examination, every staff member must understand that not only are they performing their various procedures and tasks at each point, but also that each point is an opportunity to educate each patient on what we do and why we do it.
Step No. 1. This starts in the reception area. Utilize all points, beginning with the first phone conversation, to educate patients. Do they understand everything you offer? For example, during confirmation calls, remind patients to bring in all pairs of glasses they are using and all previous contact lens information if applicable. That information allows your office to provide the highest level of care. The effort continues when they get to the office, by making the reception area a high-tech educational experience for the patient, with patient information on a closed-loop video system.
Step No. 2. Next, in preliminary testing, it is to be expected that your equipment is up-to-date, tables are clean, and rooms are uncluttered. Walk around your office regularly to make sure this is the case. Additionally, make sure your staff members use their time with patients to educate them on what each instrument does. “This autorefractor provides your doctor with precise measurements of your eye and vision so that he or she can present you with the most accurate contact lens or eyeglass prescription.” Each staff member should always professionally hand off the patient to the next person in the service chain.
Step No. 3. In the examination room, you are the expert. Treat patients’ primary reasons for their visit, but also educate them on something unique about their eyes. Discuss why you are performing specific procedures, and use your time with them to educate them on other services you can provide. If they are in for a typical eyeglass update, for example, this may be a time to offer contact lens care or medical eye care. Our role is to educate our patients on what we are doing, but also on what else we can do to help their specific situation.
Step No. 4. The optical department is the next part of the cycle. It must be clean, with well-lit stylish displays that create a friendly environment. High-tech equipment can provide more precise measurements and encourage trust from the patient’s perspective. Make sure your optical staff uses lifestyle questions to tailor recommendations to address the specific visual needs of each patient.
Step No. 5. During the checkout process, create concierge-like service for your patients. They must understand you are their advocate when it comes to handling insurance. From the patients’ perspective, the person checking them out must be informed about the nature of their purchase and understand what they have ordered and why. It is important the checkout staff members understand every aspect of your business and are able to answer inquiries without going to ask someone else for every question. The staff should also know to finish by asking if there are any other family members who need to come in for visits.
Although advanced technology is not necessary to treat every case, it can make a difference in providing quality care and improving efficiency within your practice. Many eye care providers use high-technology devices in caring for glaucoma and macular degeneration, but they fail to consider how technology can help patient flow throughout the examination process.
This is where looking at specific influence points can make a difference. Technology can help create moments that make an impression on patients. For example, when using the fundus camera, do not just tell patients their eyes look healthy. Use visual imagery to describe the process of vision and let your patients know how they compare to normal.
Additionally, technology is important for leading a discussion of other services you can provide. This is a common area of lost opportunity, not informing our patients what else we can do for them. For example, we can use technology such as a tablet computer presentation to discuss how eye care providers can slow the process of myopia if it is caught and treated at a young age. Many parents wait until their kids complain about poor vision before bringing them in for a visit. You and your staff should be committed to discussing why children need to come in early and regularly for eye care in order to perform at the highest level in school.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
In order to integrate all areas of an eye care practice, communication is key. From the initial phone call, to scheduling appointments, to the examination lane, to the checkout process, everything that we say and do contributes to the overall patient experience.
All areas of the practice must be internally related to each other. This only happens when we understand and optimize key “moments of truth,” or influence points. Maximize each patient experience, and take every opportunity to tell patients not only what you are doing today to improve their situation, but also what you can potentially do in the future to help their long-term care.
Jason R. Miller, OD, MBA, FAAO
• Partner, private practice at EyeCare Professionals of Powell, Ohio
• Adjunct faculty member, Ohio State University College of Optometry