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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor January 26, 2011 - Tip #466 
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A Busier Practice, Part 4: Telephone Recall


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The strategy that I'm sharing this week must be done with care and caution, but with the right staff member, this technique can increase your appointment schedule faster than any other. 

The concept
A staff member from your office calls patients who are due for an exam but have not responded to normal recall methods used in your practice.  This technique can be especially effective for patients covered by vision plans or other insurance.  Many patients intend to come in for eye care, but simply procrastinate.  Speaking to a staff member from your office will be all that is needed to schedule most of these folks.

The tone of the call is one of care and concern for the patient - not a call to generate business.  The staff member should simply mention that the patient was due for an eye exam in whatever month was specified and that the call is just to make sure he received the post card or email about it.  After that, the staff person takes her cue from the patient.  See below for tips on what to say.  Since the call works with your current recall system, the exact method will vary.

  • Use your office management software to search for patients who had a recall date of three months ago.  A recall date in the past means that these patients are past due for their exam.  If they had been in for an exam, the recall date would have been updated for the future.
  • There is small chance that some of these patients are already in your appointment schedule for an exam but they have not been seen yet.  Check for this before calling or modify your search factors to filter these patients out.
  • You can continue to generate lists of patients by running a search for past recall dates as far back as you wish - such as four months ago, five months ago and so on.
  • If you use a mail postcard recall system, consider when the last card was sent so the staff member can refer to it.
  • If you use preappointing, use this concept to expand on your usual phone efforts to confirm and reschedule.  Many preappointment systems also use a mail system for patients who do not wish to preappoint.  Or perhaps you can generate a list of patients who did not keep their appointment.

The challenge
Telephone calls can be regarded as intrusive.  Asking a patient to make an appointment can be interpreted as a solicitation for business and that can annoy people.  Some may even be rude to the staff member placing the call.  This perception can actually harm the image of your practice.  For this reason, you must be very cautious about the technique used.  You need a staff member with the right personality and with careful training to make this successful.

Another challenge is actually talking to the patient on the phone.  You will connect with voice mail quite often and have to leave messages and be sure that the staff member is easily available when the patient calls back.

How to do it safely
The staff caller should take a very kind and respectful attitude.  You are only looking out for the patient's best interest.  It should be a very friendly call.  You will do whatever the patient wishes and you will not be pushy or persistent.  Review this article with the staff member you assign to the task and discuss how patients might be annoyed by phone calls they did not expect.

To be really safe, I think the doctor/practice owner should listen in on the first few calls to really understand the impression it makes.  This could be done by using speaker phone or by recording the calls.  If speaker phone is used, I recommend that the staff person lean in close to the phone so the voice quality is not diminished as much.

Be prepared
The staff member who is making the calls should review the patient's record before making the call.  Know the following:

  • How to pronounce the first and last name.
  • Know the patient's age.  If it is a child, call the parent.
  • Find the phone number that was given as the best one to call.  Don't call the work number if there is a note in the chart saying not to!  Cell phones can be even more intrusive because they ring everywhere.
  • Check the dates of vision plan or insurance coverage and mention this during the call.
  • If there are notes indicating that a patient has been difficult, feel free to omit them from the telephone recall.
  • Know the basics about the patient's visual needs.  Does he wear contact lenses?  Does she have an eye disease?  Does he have low vision?  Does he live in a nursing home?
  • Is there a nice fact that you could mention about the patient's interest or personal life if the situation seems right?

What to say

  • "Hello, this is Mary from Dr. Smith's office.  I noticed you were due for an eye exam in November and I wanted to be sure you received the reminder card we sent by mail."  Listen and take cue from the patient.  Be ready to end the call if the patient is not receptive.  It may even be necessary to apologize for the intrusion.
  • Make a note in the record if patients do not wish to be called.
  • "I see you are eligible for this exam under your vision plan."
  • "Would you like to schedule your appointment at this time?"
  • "I see in your record that Dr. Smith has some concern about your eye health and he noted that re-exams are important for you."  Staff should clear this approach with the doctor before implementing and get guidelines.  It might prove awkward if the patient did not know of an eye health problem and is hearing it for the first time.
  • "How is your vision and how are your eyes feeling?"
  • "Are you getting low on your contact lens supply?"
  • "Do you have any questions about your eye care?"
  • "Would you like me to send you another notice by mail in a few months?"

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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