Article Date: 5/1/2007

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If I Had to Do It Over

How to Keep ‘em Coming Back

Scheduling return visits up front helps save time and money.


By Kirk L. Smick, O.D., F.A.A.O. Morrow, Ga.

About 10 years ago, during a learning program for optometrists, I heard about preappointing — having patients schedule their next annual exam while they’re still in the office. At the time, I was about halfway through my career, and looking back now, I wish I’d used this tactic sooner.

Skeptical, But Curious
When I first heard about preappointing, I was a little skeptical, but the instructors were so dogmatic about it that I became curious enough to want to learn more. No one in the class was using preappointments. So I asked the instructors if they could recommend someone who’s really successful with it. They suggested Walter S. Ramsey, O.D., F.A.A.O., in West Virginia.
Dr. Ramsey and I spoke on the phone about the benefits of preappointing, but he said to really appreciate it, I’d have to see it. So I bought a plane ticket and flew to West Virginia, where I spent an entire day and evening with Dr. Ramsey. I interviewed him and his staff. I watched them doing their jobs, and I saw that preappointing really works.
When I thought about it, I realized the typical patient who’s told to return in 1 year actually comes back 13 to 14 months later on average. So over the course of 7 or 8 years, you’re losing out on one complete visit. Your patient misses out on that added care, and you miss out on the added revenue. When I returned to my office, I got my staff together and began putting the preappointment system in place. It’s a simple, economical strategy that pays big dividends. Here’s how it works in my practice.

Making It Happen

To make preappointing work, your staff needs to support the concept. You’ll need to emphasize that it serves the patient’s best interests and makes the staff’s job easier in terms of recalls and follow-ups.
In my office, we preappoint all patients. We explain that we’re reserving a time for them, but if the time ends up being inconvenient, they can let us know, and we’ll likely be able to reschedule because we’ve already allotted time for them on our schedule.
Three weeks before their appointments, we send patients a postcard reminding them of the date and time, and letting them know we’ll call 72 hours in advance to remind them again.

Strengthen Your Practice
Ten years ago, very few O.D.s were using preappointing and most still aren’t using it today. But it’s a worthwhile system, and patients are accustomed to it because it’s commonplace in many fields, such as dentistry.
With preappointing, we see our patients more frequently, and we invest less staff time on follow-ups and recalls. Just remember, the key to success is making sure your staff fully understands the system. If you take the time to train them and explain why you want to use preappointing, they’ll see its value and, in the end, it will benefit your patients and your practice.

Dr. Smick has been awarded the Optometrist of the Year award for the state of Georgia. He’s served as president of the Georgia Optometric Association, the Georgia State Board of Examiners in Optometry and the Southern Council of Optometrists. He’s the senior member of the Clayton Eye Center in Georgia and is a cofounder of the center.

 



Optometric Management, Issue: May 2007