Optometric Management Tip # 445 - Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Short-term Strategies to Increase Patient Demand
If we get right to the point, most eye care practitioners (ECPs) need more patient demand. I cover all kinds of practice management topics in this newsletter, but how to increase business is the Holy Grail. Obviously, this is no easy matter or all ECPs would be busier. Yet some ECPs are busy and their practices are growing rapidly. Let's explore ways to make your practice one of the busy ones.
The best way to increase demand
Before I dive into short-term promotional ideas for your practice, we should review that the most important factor that drives new business is great customer service which generates word-of-mouth referrals. Many ECPs think their customer service is fine, but in reality it is not that great. Outstanding service must be in place first before you pursue other short term marketing strategies. If not, the short term promotions will be wasted because you won't retain the patients and you won't generate the word-of-mouth referrals that should occur.
Vision plans as a source of patients
We may not like the discounts that are mandated by vision plans, but we must acknowledge that some plans can deliver large numbers of patients. You should choose vision plans carefully and not become overly dependent on them, but if a plan has many members in your market area and you need to increase patient demand, you should become a panel provider. Making vision plans profitable is a topic for another article but ideally a practice will achieve a balance of billings to vision plans, medical insurance and private pay.
With those two major ingredients in place, there are plenty of things you can do to increase your patient load. The first step is to develop a marketing plan. This can be as simple as making a list of projects you can do, budgeting the cost (some are free), and developing a time table for getting things done. If business is slow, don't just sit in your office and hope it picks up; make things happen! Enthusiasm is contagious. If you have projects in place, your staff and your patients can sense that your practice is busy and successful. Review this list of ideas and decide which ones you can do.
- Send a mailing to the local community. This is a very broad category and it can be used multiple times with different themes and goals. What do you want to promote? Talk to your local print shop for ideas about the mailing pieces and mailing lists. Many printing firms will handle the complete project for you and send bulk mail for about 25 cents per piece in postage. Talk to your contact lens and frame reps about the possibility of co-op programs where they may help offset your costs. Even without co-op funding, your reps can help you with ideas.
- Send a special marketing message to your patient base. This could be a reactivation letter to folks who have not been seen for a long time...or do a special search of your files for candidates for a new multifocal contact lens.
- Host an open house. This could include a free vision screening of some kind or a free trial of contact lenses.
- Join a community organization. Civic groups like Rotary Club, chamber of commerce, charities and churches provide service to the community – but joining these groups is also a great way to meet other business leaders and potential patients.
- Visit local doctors or other referral sources. You can't be shy when it comes to business. Just drop in and visit some physicians, pharmacists, and other eye care professionals. Make it brief and just introduce yourself to whoever will see you. Ask what kind of referrals they would like from you and tell them what kind of services you can offer their patients. Drop off a stack of your business cards.
- Start a new specialty. It does not take a large financial investment to develop a specialty like low vision, vision therapy, industrial safety eyewear, or geriatric care. Once you have a specialty in place, visit the referral sources that see those people.
- Have a trunk show. Talk to your frame reps about their willingness to bring in special frame lines and get their advice on how to promote the event and get a good turnout.
- Provide eye care for a nursing home. Just call your local assisted living facilities and see if they need someone to provide onsite eye care.
- Present an in-office patient seminar. Design a simple and brief lecture presentation on PowerPoint for the general public on any eye care topic you like. You are an expert and people would like to learn more about many eye care topics. Hold it in your reception area and invite the local community and ask them to reserve a spot by calling ahead.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management