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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor August 29, 2007 - Tip #292 
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The Myth About Longer Exam Times

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Eye care professionals generally equate an eye exam with more doctor time to one of higher quality. That may be true to a point, but I think most optometrists don't see this issue the same way patients do. There is a lot at stake here because the length of time spent in each exam has a huge effect on productivity and profitability.

Can we control exam length?

I want to acknowledge that to some degree, the time spent in an eye exam is irrelevant and the focus should be on obtaining the data needed to provide good care. We all agree that there are certain minimum tests and standards that must be met in an eye exam and that the time needed for that is what it is. But let's also acknowledge that beyond the time required for good care, some doctors take longer performing some tests than they need to, some do additional tests that are not required because they think it's impressive, and some give a longer technical explanation of eye conditions than others.

Indeed, many eye care professionals take pride in spending more time with patients and think of that as part of their marketing strategy or a competitive advantage.

A surprising thought

So here is the part many optometrists have not considered. Patients don't really want an eye exam to take a long time! They really don't have that much fun in your exam room. They have a busy life they would like to get back to.

I realize that our professional culture equates quality and thoroughness with time spent, and to some extent we even think a higher fee is justified by more time. But that is optometric thinking at its best and there is a fallacy there. In fact, of patients who pay for exams out-of-pocket (and there are still many of them), I think they would pay more if the exam could be quicker! Those that have insurance would also like them to be quicker. Of course, patients want their eye health needs to be met, which they really don't understand very well, but as long as that happens and they can see great when they're done... quicker is better.

One more revelation

As you ponder how long an eye exam should take, consider this: The more time the patient spends in your clinic area, the less time they will spend in the optical area.

Speeding things up

Smart marketing is about identifying and satisfying patients' wants and needs. Here are a few ideas for helping your patient get in and out of your office faster.

· Streamline the check-in process. Have everything ready in advance and don't make the history questionnaire very complex.

· Reduce the wait in the reception area. Time spent there is truly a waste. Doctors who are flexible about when they take patients and stay aware of their schedule can make a huge difference.

· Reduce the inner office wait. The doctor must be aware when the next patient is ready and adapt to the situation when possible. I wear a silent pager and my technician uses an office phone on speed dial to call that number and then hang up. The inner wait is a great time to play an educational video clip on eye care for the patient.

· Delegate as many procedures as possible to a technician in pretesting. Automated instruments are faster and save doctor time.

· Only do tests that you really need. Change your procedures based on the history and complaint. Avoid doing tests because you always did them or because you think it impresses patients.

· Explain tests as you do them, including stating the result when appropriate.

· Use a scribe (with either paper or electronic records). While you are examining, she or he is recording data. When you are done with the exam, you say goodbye and leave the room first.

· Review the exam findings and educate the patient at the end of the visit, but don't overdo it and don't use many technical terms.

I believe in providing very thorough eye exams with lots of new technology. Creating the wow factor is a great way to differentiate your practice, and if that provides a clinical advantage as it works as a marketing tool, I say go for it. Just be critical when it comes to selecting your exam procedures and work to conserve time in every way you can.

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.
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