Optometric Management Tip # 248   -   Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Analyzing Your Practice: Too Many Forms?

Since we discussed cleaning house last week in a literal sense, letís consider doing the same thing with your office forms and paperwork. If we begin with the premise that you want to build a thriving practice that is based on extreme patient loyalty and word of mouth referrals, then we need to look at everything we do from the patientís point of view. I like that little rhyme so much that I made it part of our mission statement. Practices built on extreme patient loyalty are the best, but they require the practice owner and manager to care about patientsí wants and needs, including small details.

Office forms

Nobody really likes to fill out forms. Patients have come to expect it at a doctorís office to some degree and they will generally comply, but many eye care offices become overly reliant on forms. It can happen quite innocently; over the years we develop a form as a way to make data collection more efficient for staff or to convey an important policy to all. The doctor and staff may not think much about the forms, but they can create a negative impression on patients. While most forms are on paper, electronic versions with a touch screen are really not any more pleasant. All questionnaires require patients to think, make decisions and possibly wonder why the information is needed.

Talking is good, too

Collecting data verbally may be slightly less efficient, but it helps staff to form a bond with patients. People love to talk about themselves; they love it when someone is interested in them. By asking questions in a caring, humanistic way, you can make the patientís visit a feel-good experience. That builds loyalty and referrals, even if the patient is not sure what it was that was so special.

Fewer forms

In my office, we have a brief history questionnaire that is presented at check-in on a clipboard and it is available on our practice website if people wish to complete it in advance. Our staff mentions the online form while making the appointment over the phone. Our history form is for new patients only and we do not ask to have it completed again as long as the patient continues with our practice. Our technicians update the allergies, medications and illnesses at each visit and the business office staff verifies the phone numbers and addresses at check-out.

I have excellent results by having my optical staff ask the typical lifestyle dispensing questions in person, rather than use a questionnaire. It gets patients talking about their jobs and hobbies, and the simple act of doing that suggests multiple pairs of glasses. Nothing replaces straight two-way communication.

Even if a form would be a little more convenient for our staff, we prefer to make it easy on the patient.
We want to be noticed for our outstanding customer service and for being easy to do business with.

Review your forms

Here are a few of the forms that are frequently used in eye care. Review this list and note if your practice has such a form. Consider if each one is really necessary and if there may be a more patient friendly way of getting the information.

Iím not saying all forms are bad and I use some of the following in my practice, but be judicious. Forms in advance

I know many doctors like to mail forms to patients in advance of their appointments. Some may even think that an extremely extensive form is somehow impressive Ė like the office is so advanced and the information needed is so detailed that the form would be too long to complete in person at the office. There may some specialty practices where that is true, but for the most part, patients would be more impressed if eye care services are delivered with less input.

There is also a trend to put history forms online and have them completed in advance electronically so the information is transferred directly to the practice management computer software. Itís great when you can get it, but I would be careful of not annoying people by being overly pushy about completing forms online. Many people are not computer savvy and donít want to be embarrassed about that.

I hear complaints by doctors that patients donít always complete their online forms or donít always show up with their paper forms completed when mailed in advance. If that happens in your case there is a message in it, people donít like doing it.

Best wishes for continued success,

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