Optometric Management Tip # 251   -   Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Are you Flexible with Patients?

I have an opportunity to study some of the best practices in the country and I am always looking for subtle factors that lead to great success. I think one of those factors is the ability to be flexible and to adapt on the fly as the practice interacts with patients.

Procedures and policies

My point about flexibility comes down to the fact that most doctors and staff members have a specific way they like to do things. The longer the practice has been in existence, the more likely the doctor is to want things a certain way. There are dozens of examples; it could be if contact lens wearers come in wearing their lenses Ė or not. Of course, we want patients to bring their old glasses and a list of medications. Some offices want to have history forms completed before the visit. We want patients to tell us about insurance plans before the visit. It would be best if patients turned their cell phones off in the exam areas. We would like patients who are thinking about contact lenses for the first time to mention that fact before the exam is over. I could go on and on and there are many more obscure requests if you dig into individual practices.

If patients happen to be aware and remember all the needs of the office (in other words, if they do things right), all goes well. But how does your office react when patients donít do it ďrightĒ? If there is a tone of annoyance on the part of the receptionist, technician or doctor, then I think you are hurting your practice reputation. Unfortunately, I find that patients often donít do things right and staff and doctor annoyance is a pretty common response. Itís almost as if some people take some pleasure in making others feel like they did something wrong. Maybe it gives them an ego trip or they think it gives them the upper hand. The problem is the patient feels badly and is left with an unpleasant experience.

Can you roll with it?

Since we deal with the public, we should know we are going to experience some strange behavior at times. Even if your staff told a patient in advance about a policy or if a sign is posted, people will still forget or ignore it.

Before reacting with a sigh or the rolling of your eyes, consider:

Making sure that you operate in a patient-friendly manner pays big dividends. It is part of a customer service culture that all successful businesses have in common. Be patient, understanding, and empathetic. If there is something that is very important to your practice, make sure you state it clearly in advance and offer an explanation and a reminder. If patients throw you a curve ball, see if you can respond as if nothing unusual happened at all.

Best wishes for continued success,

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