Patients Don't Grow on Trees
An unfriendly staff may put you out on a
By Jerry Hayes, O.D.
Have I ever told you about the time when
Betty, my first full-time assistant, chased away little Bobby
Curatt and cost me $25,000 in lost fees? Well, it's definitely a
story I won't ever forget.
The Curatts were a nice family. There was
the mother, father, two teenage daughters and 10-year-old Bobby.
They all wore glasses -- and best of all, they all came to me for
their vision care. This was very important to a young O.D. just
getting his practice started.
Unfortunately, Bobby, a -2.00 myope and
typical little boy, was a holy terror on glasses. He bent them,
he smashed them and he knocked the lenses out. It was amusing for
a while, but adjusting those frames got old after the first half
dozen times. I didn't really mind though, because I liked the
Currats, and they were great patients.
Betty, however, forgetting that her sole
job was to serve patients, got sick of working on little Bobby's
glasses and made a comment to that effect to Mrs. Currat one day
when I was out of the office.
It didn't take long for me to notice that
the Currats weren't coming in anymore, and I soon found out
through some mutual friends that I'd lost a great family of
patients because of Betty's rude behavior.
Numbers don't lie
Just how much did losing the Currats cost
me? Using conservative numbers, at least $25,000 over the
lifetime value of those patients (LTVP).
To a young O.D. looking ahead to 30 more
years of practice, the typical patient will come to see you an
average of once every 2 years. Assuming an average fee of $200
adjusted for 3% annual inflation, that one patient will see you
16 times and spend about $5,000 over the lifetime of your
practice. In Bobby's case, the figures would've been much higher
because he was a progressive myope who came in on a regular basis.
As healthcare providers, we always want to
look at our patients as real people with feelings and needs, not
as eyecare problems with money to spend. Having said that, it's
funny how your perspective can change when you think in terms of
each patient in your exam chair as having a lifetime value of $5,000
rather than being a $50 eye exam.
And, that LTVP can skyrocket from $5,000 up
to $100,000 if they like you enough to refer just 10 or 20 other
patients over the course of your practice. It can also cost you
much more than that if a staff member, like my Betty, is chasing
Because a vision care consumer goes through
a cycle of trying you and then returning for repeat care before
she's really somebody's patient, it's important for you to
recognize that patient retention, not new patient acquisition, is
the key driver in the long-term success of your practice. Only
when a patient makes the decision to come back for repeat care
can she be considered your patient.
Get them coming back
The trick that many healthcare providers,
including some optometrists, never fully learn is that getting
patients to come back on a regular basis requires more than just
providing good basic care. That's the minimum people expect.
A number of other things go into
determining whether patients will stick with you, such as
marketing and the appearance and location of your office. But
mostly, it's the friendliness and efficiency of your staff and
how they feel about you as a doctor that'll keep people coming
back, again and again, for repeat care.
In the end, the ultimate goal is to create
a bond between you and the patient for a lifetime of practice.
That's where the payoff is -- for both you and them.
So, are you wondering whatever happened to
my assistant, Betty? I'm sure you'll get a kick out of this.
Betty eventually drifted off to another job. The reason she gave
for leaving? Strangely enough, it seems she didn't like working
with the public.
Dr. Hayes is director of the Center for
Practice Excellence. You can direct practice finance questions to
him by fax at (904) 273- 1224, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Optometric Management, Issue: January 2001