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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor November 8, 2006 - Tip #251 
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Are you Flexible with Patients?

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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 - 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 don't do it "right"? 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 don't do things right and staff and doctor annoyance is a pretty common response. It's 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:

  • The patient may have physical or mental limitations that prevented him from understanding what you want.
  • Your staff may have failed to mention it.
  • Your staff told a family member who made the appointment but the patient did not get the message.
  • A previous eye doctor may not have done it your way.
  • The thing that you are annoyed about is really rather minor in the big picture. And what are you going to do about it at that moment anyway? If the patient is in your office it's not likely that you will send him home, so what is the point of making him feel badly? If you're going to continue with the exam and work around the issue, why not get the credit of being an incredibly nice office to deal with?
  • Also consider that you may have an employee who is not flexible and who is easily annoyed and you may not even know it. Many doctors spend most of their time in the exam room and leave all administrative issues to staff. This topic is a good one to cover at staff meetings.

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,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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