Article Date: 3/1/2013

Patient�s Perspective
Patient’s Perspective

Rewarded for Referrals

A patient loses her vision plan but learns she’s valued by the practice.

By Sally Donnelly, as told to Erin Murphy, Contributing Editor

YOU KNOW THOSE CAR commercials where satisfied customers say they’ve bought five cars from the dealer and plan to go back “again and again”? How often do those people buy cars? As the owner of a very tired 1999 Chrysler minivan, I can’t relate. That’s why I was surprised to find that my optometrist puts me in that elite category — lucrative repeat customer.

Bye, Bye Doctor

I’ve worn glasses all my life, and I’d been going to my current optometrist every 2 years since he opened his practice 30 years ago.

About 4 years ago, I divorced and my economic status changed. Money was extremely tight. I had to switch to my employer’s benefit package, which didn’t include a vision plan.

My doctor’s office sent me appointment reminders, but I never called. I just didn’t have the cash to pay for an exam and new glasses. Finally, after 4 years, I couldn’t put it off any longer. My old glasses were scratched and had a very wobbly arm.

Time to Face Facts

In the exam room, the doctor looked at my chart. “Wow! It’s been 4 years!” he said. I explained that I didn’t have vision coverage, and that my budget was very tight. “Your mother has glaucoma,” he said. “The office can work with you on the costs, but at 52, you really need regular eye exams.”

He looked at my eyes and we chatted about how I’m seeing. Then he gave me the news: I needed bifocals. Price-wise, that’s not good.

Can’t I just wear regular glasses and use readers?

I knew progressive bifocal lenses cost more, but I couldn’t contemplate wearing glasses with a line across them like my mother. Plus I feared my already lessthan- encouraging return to the single life might not survive old lady glasses.

“Can’t I just wear regular eyeglasses and use readers when I need them?” I asked.

The doctor said, “Let’s try something else.” He called the optician into the room. “We just got a lot of new frames, which means we probably have some very nice ones on clearance that Jean can show you. Jean, I’m making notes in Sandy’s chart. Please help her find the right frames and get her set up with the lenses she needs.”

Patient Appreciation

Jean and I selected some very hip clearance frames and I went to the desk to pay, crossing my fingers for luck. The total was much lower than I expected, and I said so. The receptionist looked at the paperwork. “The doctor wrote 30-year patient, MANY referrals, 25% off exam, 50% off frames, and $50 referral credit.”

“But I didn’t refer anyone!” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” she said. “Sandy, you’ve been here every 2 years for 30 years. You brought in your husband and three kids, right? You bring your parents to us. You referred your sister and her family and lots of people from work. That means something to us. And from a business perspective, we’re much better off keeping you as a patient than pricing you out of a pair of glasses the second you lose your vision coverage.”

Best Practice

I was really surprised. Their perspective made sense, but it’s not the kind of thing you expect a practice to notice, let alone return in kind. I’m planning to change employers in the next year, and hopefully I’ll have a vision plan again. But whether I do or not, I’ll continue going to my optometrist, and I’ll be more eager than ever to recommend him to others. nOD

Editor’s note: Periodically, new OD will explore eye care from the patient’s perspective. Whether you have a special interest in contact lenses, low vision or pediatric care, you’ll find out from real patients what attracts them to a practice and keeps them coming back.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2013