Optometric Management Tip # 169   -   Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Who says patients want an eye exam to take a long time?

I love that question because it challenges our traditional thinking and shakes up our world. The answer is they really donít. If we think about patientsí wants and needs, theyíd like to get it over with Ė in much the same way as Iíd like to get out of the dentistís chair when Iím a patient.

Quick eye exams are the opposite of what most ODs are all about. Itís kind of an insult for many of us to even think about. The long-standing opinion is that if itís quick Ė it canít be good. But if youíre really objective about it, youíll see that what weíve long believed may be incorrect. Beliefs such as: There are many flaws in this philosophy. Patients are smarter than we think and most have had an eye exam and glasses or contacts prescribed before. They get it.

I think patients actually want eye exams to be quick Ė as long as they feel confident in their doctor. Most donít want to know all about what we do. We should acknowledge the fact that we may actually be boring to a large number of patients, and try to alter that possibility. From a business standpoint, consumers crave a new and better concept, and will reward businesses that can break out of the mold. So, make the exam process quicker Ė and they will like it better! Make it quicker and you can even charge more for it! Patients will love the convenience of a relatively fast exam. Throw in a few high tech items that are different from the usual eye care experience, like digital retinal photos networked into the exam rooms, and you have a winning operation.

How do you make it quicker and still cover all the procedures that make up your definition of the standard of care? Well, first, analyze your standard of care and only perform tests that are needed for each case. Only you should decide what that is, but it may not be what you were taught to do in school. After you have that minimal baseline of tests, delegate and automate as much as possible. The goal is to have as much data as possible when you walk into the exam room. Granted, having a technician collect all that data still takes time, but automated instruments are generally pretty quick, and having the data lets you concentrate on interacting with your patient.

Of course, many optometrists rationalize that there is no need to shorten exam times and work on efficiency if the current patient demand just barely fills the available appointment slots. There are two flaws in this thinking to me: 1) The free time you create could be used to work on building the practice through practice marketing and staff training, and 2) patients donít like the exam process to take a long time!

There is one more excellent reason for making exams efficient: less time spent in the clinical side of your office means more time spent in the optical side. People will only spend just so much time in your office; they have a life to get back to. Think about that one.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management