Article Date: 9/1/2008

The Patient-Centric Optical Dispensing System
optical

The Patient-Centric Optical Dispensing System

Guidelines for exceeding patient expectations.

BY AMIR KHOSHNEVIS, O.D., Charlotte, NC

Based on the advice of many trusted experts and my own research, I devised a system by which our opticians can schedule an appointment for our patients' optical dispensing that provides patients with a high level of appreciation and confidence in the eyewear we provide.

In this system, the opticians can gauge the expected delivery date of eyewear (based on lens type, enhancements, frame selection and lab turnaround time history). The goal for creating this system is three-fold:

► To improve the patient experience

► Reduce delivery delays, and

► Reduce or virtually eliminate the number of calls from patients inquiring about their glasses — a source of anxiety that lowers patients' perception of our services and keeps our staff busy with non-appointment related calls.

We're all aware that a key component of long-term practice health is patient "loyalty" and not simply "satisfaction." Adequate delivery of service (i.e., meeting expectations) drives satisfaction. But, you win loyalty by consistently exceeding expectations. In order to grow, create an exceptional environment for patients and staff and protect our practice from future competitive threats, we need to create "loyal" patients who not only return to us for all their eyecare needs, but also refer others. A patient who feels "satisfied" with the care rendered will never sing our praises. But a loyal patient will tell others about their passion for our office; this is the very best form of advertising for our practices.

Let me explain how my optical dispensing system achieves loyalty to a practice.

How to set a date

1 After completing a sale in the optical, we review the various factors that influence delivery time (e.g., complexity of lens, lens materials and enhancements and type of frame).

2 We establish what factor is most significant (e.g., digitally surfaced PAL), then set the date for expected delivery to the patient. We use data directly from our practice records to establish accurate dates. You may use the "ETA" table below, which includes numbers from our practice, as a template. Key point: Set realistic turnaround times that aren't too aggressive or conservative. You don't want to disappoint patients by not meeting the set date, and you don't want to go beyond their perceived "reasonable time" for delivery of eyewear. According to patient feedback, delivery before one week is exceptional, between one and two weeks is expected, and more than two weeks is too long, which significantly reduces patient satisfaction (unless you educate them regarding highly specialized lenses).

3 We have established norms for turn-around time based on data collected from our main lab, and we ask our opticians to follow these guidelines for establishing patient dispensing appointments.

4 We create an actual appointment in our practice management software and give patients an appointment card as a reminder. We schedule in 30-minute time slots in order to give the opticians and the patient some flexibility. We encourage staff to use phrases such as, "your appointment is between 2:00 and 2:30 on Monday" instead of giving an exact time; this prevents anxiety if the patient arrives while the staff is helping another patient. Staff won't need to call to confirm these appointments as long as everything goes as planned with the production of the glasses. We politely inform the patient that he won't need to call the office prior to his appointment nor will he need to check out again, as we will take care of everything prior to his departure on the date of service. This sells convenience to the patient and helps promote full payment.

5 Each optician looks at his or her appointment book two days in advance in order to rule out a potential problem with the scheduled delivery. If we note no problems, we simply make the proper notation in the software and prepare for delivery by doing quality control (i.e., checking craftsmanship, appearance and verifying the prescription).

If we notice problems, such as back-orders, delays, broken lenses, missed shipping deadlines, or anything that would delay on-time delivery, we immediately call to inform the patient of the delay and reschedule their pickup appointment. It's imperative you minimize this delay in delivery, as it becomes a critical point in shaping a patient's perception of your services. Because the patient assumes the lab is an extension of our office (even if we explain otherwise), he will not understand or care about the "reasons" for the delay and simply judge us by this perceived mishap. If we are unable to have a conversation with the patient, we make sure to leave a message at his work and also at his home in order to ensure proper notification. We ask the patient to call the optician directly to reschedule the appointment.

6 The opticians take time prior to delivery to place the glasses in their respective case and prepare the cleaning cloth, spray and our warranty card as well. They then place the specs in the dispensing shelf and all other materials in a dispensing bag for a professional presentation at dispensing.

This system inevitably causes opticians to take a few extra steps on the front-end, but the rewards far outweigh the negatives. Doing this effectively eliminates the need to call patients when their glasses arrive and eliminates calls from patients inquiring about their glasses (usually not a happy call, especially if the glasses are not ready), thereby reducing the interruptions during their workday. So, in actuality, this system reduces the work your opticians currently do. Also, the system helps opticians appear more professional in their presentation of the final product.

Don't miss an opportunity

There is a key point I'd like to make that addresses our desire to gain patient loyalty. If you're fortunate enough to receive a job early from the lab, you should make a point to call the patient immediately to deliver the good news. The patient will be surprised and excited to receive your call; you should move their dispense appointment, if desired, in order to capture that excitement (i.e., reinforce exceptional customer service from our office). Please do not miss this opportunity to impress the patient and exceed his or her expectations. We've found that the moment of proper delivery, especially one that exceeds expectations, is the most effective time to address an opportunity to sell a second pair of glasses. You've proved your worth in quality and service; it's now time to offer other services and products you provide.

The optical staff should offer patients substantial savings on a second pair at the time of delivery, even if offered at the point of purchase, good for 90 days. Conversely, the opticians should always have the authority to issue a "service recovery" certificate (pre-determined by your practice) to patients who didn't receive their eyewear in a reasonable time, regardless of the circumstance (i.e., whether it was your fault or that of the lab).

Ultimately, the results are the barometer by which a system's success is measured. Our optical manager, Jennifer DaQuano, was the first to implement the protocol into her daily routine and after a few months, she actually thanked us for "pushing her" to make the change from the norm. In her words, "There are many good ideas we implement in the practice … This one is genius!" OM

Dr. Khoshnevis founded Carolina Family Eye Care in 2003. He specializes in specialty contact lenses and works on projects related to practice management. E-mail him at drk@carolinafamilyeyecare.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2008