Optometric Management Tip # 224   -   Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Filling Holes in the Schedule

For most optometric practices, keeping appointment schedules full is a problem. If our schedules were completely full every day, revenue and profitability would increase dramatically. If we were booked solid and somewhat in advance, we might even look to implement ways to be more efficient and increase the number of appointment slots that we offer per day.

Volume equals revenue

Let me illustrate this point very clearly. Seeing just two more patients per day at an average gross revenue of $304 per patient (this figure taken from a recent national survey of ODs) would result in an increase in annual gross revenue of $152,000. To check my math, take $608 per day times 5 days per week times 50 weeks per year.

That $152,000 per year could be realized if you overcome an average of two unfilled appointment slots per day, due to lack of demand plus cancellations or no shows. If you increased office efficiency and still had enough demand to add two extra patients per day, your practice revenue could increase by $304,000 per year.

A great idea with vision plans

Generally speaking, there are very few good ways to quickly increase patient demand. Most practices are built upon patient loyalty and word of mouth referrals, which take time. But here is a tip that can make an instant difference and is long lasting. When a patient with a vision plan books an appointment, have your receptionist check benefit eligibility while the patient is still on the phone. A skilled receptionist can actually do this quite quickly and it need not wait until after the call is ended. After the exam benefit is confirmed, it is a very easy matter to view the eligibility of other family members. At this point the receptionist might say: “OK, Mrs. Jones, I have you scheduled for this Friday at 2pm and I have just confirmed that you are eligible for services under your vision plan. By the way, I also see that your husband, Bill, and your daughter, Jennifer, are eligible for eye exams… did you want to schedule appointments for them as well?”

This little courtesy gives your patient important information that they are often not aware of. Many people will go ahead and schedule appointments for their family members.

This is one of those office policies that the doctor may think is occurring, but in reality, it has been dropped because it takes a little extra time. Be sure to train and retrain your staff on the importance of this procedure and be vigilant that it really happens. Receptionists should be reminded that filling the appointment schedule is job one for them and nothing happens in the practice without that. Be aware that a light appointment schedule makes for an easy work day, and may be seen as desirable to some employees.

Marketing

If your appointment schedule is light, make time in your schedule to develop a practice marketing plan. Consider:

 
Cancellation list

Have your staff keep a cancellation list of patient names. When patients settle for an appointment slot that is not ideal – perhaps it’s booked two weeks ahead, or they would have preferred a Saturday or an evening, your receptionist can ask if they would like to be contacted if a cancellation should occur for the more desirable time. The list has patient names, phone numbers, current appointment time and desired appointment time. If a last-minute cancellation occurs, the receptionist just calls people on the list and fills the empty slot.


Best wishes for continued success,

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