Article Date: 1/1/2012

When Policies and Patients Collide
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When Policies and Patients Collide

Keep policies simple, and you'll make life easy for patients and the practice.

Gary Gerber, O.D.

I just got these glasses last year, and they were never right. As you can see, I never wore them. I'd like a refund please.”

Seems simple from the patient's point of view. After all, he didn't get something he paid for. From your perspective, however, it might not be so simple. First, there's your policy and the supporting sign at the front desk that clearly states, “No refunds after 30 days.”

Next, what about accountability? Don't patients realize that eyeglasses are custom made? Shouldn't they have some stake in the transaction? Would they do the same thing with a custom tailored suit? And of course, what will you do about their vision plan benefit, which they already used last year for these glasses?

It's really not so simple after all. But shouldn't it be? Can't we simplify things so that cases like this are less angst ridden?

Victim of policy

We are often victims of our own policies and in this case, consider how things would be different if your policy was 60, or even 1,000 days. If the time frame was long enough to encapsulate the patient's situation, there'd be no issues whatsoever. With that in mind, perhaps the policy itself is flawed and instead of a time frame, the policy should reflect the practice's culture, values and DNA. What if the policy was instead, “We'll make you happy”? A policy set at that high level (i.e., beyond a particular number of days) makes it much easier for patients and staff. Road blocks and speed bumps get reduced or eliminated.

Gary, get real. With such a liberal, foolhardy policy, patients will surely take advantage.

While I certainly have heard this comment before, I challenge its accuracy. If patients continually request refunds, you have other issues. The challenges with policies like this are in our heads, not in patient intentions. When putting forth patient-centric policies, we instinctively focus on the few outlying patients who are likely to take advantage of the situation. Yes, it happens. But it shouldn't happen often. And the key here is that the rest of your “normal” patients get the benefits of your more patient-friendly policies.

In setting any office policy, reference your overall practice goals, strategy and mission. For instance, if you're very retail-price focused, make policies that surround that. Don't deviate or be wishy-washy or your foundation cracks, and your practice suffers. Instead, ensure that your policies are in lock step with your business model and unique selling proposition.

We generally prefer our clients keep policies as simple and patient friendly as possible. They typically shorten or eliminate lengthy documents and waivers.

Would you visit your practice?

Put yourself in your patients' place. Would you do business with you? Are you worth any perceived risk? Would you refer others to you based on your current policies? You'll have to think hard about this, and force yourself to do so as a patient, not as an owner who is keenly aware of the administrative costs of dealing with insurance companies, rent, etc. Patients want an easy, hassle-free experience, and they also want to have their visual needs met. It's a tall order for sure, and the more expeditiously and friendly you are at doing this, the more successful you'll be. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: January 2012, page(s): 18