Optometric Management Tip # 91   -   Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Reactivating patients who have not returned

Unless you have a new practice, you probably have patients who have not returned for eye care for several years. This group of people, which is easily identified via a computer search of your records, is ideal for a simple target marketing project. The group is ideal because we know the people need eye care, they once selected you as their eye care provider, and you have easy access to their names and addresses! If your appointment schedule could be busier, consider sending a special recall letter to this group - we might call it a reactivation letter.

You can pick any time period you wish, but I would start with patients who have not been into your office in the past 4 to 8 years (adjust this if you have not been in practice that long). This time period gets to the group that is more than just a little slow in returning, and it may be a group that your normal recall system is missing. By not searching more than 8 years back, we limit the effort to those who are more likely to respond. As you design the reactivation letter, consider that this patient group falls into two sub-groups: those who have gone to another eye doctor, and those who do not understand the importance of regular eye care. Many patients who have gone to another doctor may have found that they were actually better off at your office, and they may want to return. Some of these patients may be a little embarrassed about going elsewhere, so I'd address that point in the letter, to let them know they are still welcome.

As compelling as we optometrists may think our recall letters can be, patients probably find them boring. I'd keep the letter short and to the point and keep the language simple. In addition to the letter, this is one of the few times I'd include a discount - or a coupon -- if you will. I'd prefer to call it a savings certificate, or anything other than coupon. I'm generally against the use of coupons and discounts, especially if directed at the general public, but this special group of your own patients needs a call to action. They have shown that they are inactive and they need a nudge.

I would have a printer make up professional looking certificates in a specific dollar amount, possibly $20 or $30, to be used toward the examination fee. You may want to specify that this discount may not be combined with any other discount or insurance plan. Insert any other disclaimers or restrictions you want, and an expiration date. Collect the certificates as a method of tracking the success of this program.

Due to the elapsed time period, you will only see a small percentage of these patients; so don't hold back on the number of letters you send out. Think big -- send thousands if you have them. You may want to get a bulk rate permit from your post office to reduce postage costs.

Here's a sample letter to get you started. Your office management software system may allow you to personalize it with names and dates, or just leave it general and let your printing company print the letter and stationery together.

Month, Year

Dear patient,

In reviewing our records, we noticed that you have not had an eye exam in our office in over four years.

If you have not received any eye care in that period, we urge you to schedule an appointment with our office as soon as possible so that we can check your eye health and confirm your visual clarity. If you have visited another eye care provider since we saw you last, we hope you'll give us the opportunity to welcome you back. In any case, it's important to receive regular eye exams because some eye diseases and optical problems can occur without you being aware of them until they are quite advanced.

Insert 2 or 3 sentences about new developments in the practice... new instruments, new services, new staff, new office hours, professional accomplishments, etc.

The enclosed savings certificate is good for a discount of $XX when used toward an eye exam within the next two months. Please call right away to schedule your appointment.

We hope to see you soon.

Sincerely,

Mary Smith, Office Manager
Main Street Eye Center

Best wishes for continued success,

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