Optometric Management Tip # 429   -   Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Using Email for Patient Communication

The idea of using email instead of regular postal service or telephone is not new, but I believe it is vastly underutilized in optometric practice. There are many advantages to email and it is now easier than ever to get started, even for those who are not computer advanced. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of using email (and even texting) for your patient communication.

Why use email?
Here are the main benefits I see for using email as a business tool to communicate with patients:

How to send bulk email messages
To make emailing an efficient process and to send messages to many people at once, it is best to use a service. There are many companies that will assist you with this process and several of them specialize in eye care practices. I don't provide names of private companies in this publication, but ask a colleague or your practice management software supplier. Or ask me via private email. Many of these companies advertise in our professional magazines and online mailings, and many have exhibits at larger eye care conferences. The monthly service fees are quite reasonable in my opinion. Just pick a service and sign up and the company will tell you what to do.

These email service companies will interface with your office management software system, usually overnight, and it will search and select the data it needs. Information is collected such as new email addresses, patient names, appointment dates, recall dates and any other key data that you authorize to make the communication happen. You can also log on to the administrative website of your service to make changes to your settings and to customize your messages.

What tasks work well with email?
Virtually anything you would send by regular mail and many tasks that are done over the telephone can be handled via email. Email makes communication so easy that you may want to adopt some communication efforts that your practice has never bothered with before or that you used to do, but dropped. You may still need to back up the email process with some mail or phone calls, but those venues can be greatly reduced.

Consider these tasks:

How to obtain patients' email addresses
Perhaps you have already been collecting email addresses on all your patients and if so, you can begin to use them more effectively. If not, you should start right away and your list will grow quickly. Simply ask every patient for his or her email address on your intake or history form. But your staff needs to go further than that if you are going to truly use email effectively.

Many people are reluctant to release their email address due to concern over unwanted marketing junk mail, spam and computer viruses. Also realize that some people do not check email very regularly, which could be a problem for appointment confirmations. With these points in mind, train your front desk staff to look for an email address on every patient they see at checkout. They should confirm existing addresses (people change them fairly often) and if there is no email address in the record, ask the patient for it in a sincere and caring manner. Reassure patients that you will not share their address with outside parties and you'll never send them spam. Let patients know that you are moving to email for appointment confirmations and other important communication and mention the green aspect as stated above. You could have a counter sign and a pad of paper handy for the patient to write the address on (saying it verbally can lead to errors). A good receptionist can obtain email addresses from at least 80% of patients.

Best wishes for continued success,

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