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
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.
If your appointment schedule is light, make time in your schedule to develop a
practice marketing plan. Consider:
- Internal marketing, directed at your patients of
record. Direct mail announcements and invitations to special events can be
very effective. You will have to think up the special event. What service
or product would you like to promote?
- Sending a warm letter and a special offer to patients
who have not been seen in over three years – to attract them back.
- Improving the experience in your office so more
patients refer others.
- Designing a new practice logo and a new exterior
- Newspaper and radio advertising.
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