Article Date: 3/1/2002

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What's Your Sign?
Get rid of those signs that only warn and inform a few of your patients. Focus on making good patients happier.
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

"Payment is due when services are rendered." Oh, is it really? I know, the sign follows up with, "Unless other arrangements have been made in advance." I've seen similar signs in hundreds of offices, but when I ask office owners how effective the signs are they tell me, "Not very." I ask how often they enforce the message and they say, "Hardly ever."

Setting policies for the masses based on the actions of a few bad apples and then not enforcing them makes for bad business.

Don't make generalizations

We all have patients who never pay their bills or who take forever to pay them. We all want to get paid, and to get paid in a timely manner. And most of us do -- maybe not as timely as we'd like, but the majority of patients do pay their bills. If they didn't, most of us would be out of business.

Yet because of a few bad patients we just can't seem to forget, we institute policies that make us appear almost adversarial to the patients to whom we should be the most friendly -- those who do pay their bills. The "Payment is Expected" sign is one such example.

Another example is telling patients that they'll be charged a fee for breaking an appointment without giving 24 hours notice. Sure, I hate no shows and last-minute cancellations. But this policy is aimed at a small subset of patients (whom you should know by now anyway).

ILLUSTRATION BY NANCY HARRISON

Other no-no policies

Another unnecessary policy I've seen on office signs is the one stating that the office charges for adjustments on glasses that weren't purchased at the office. Again, I don't like doing things for free any more than you do. But I've never seen a sign like this that's enforced by the practice. Doctors tell me that the sign is there to discourage patients from buying their eyeglasses elsewhere. If so, deal with the bigger issues such as selection, price, turn-around time, etc.

Managed care brings about a whole host of non-consumer-friendly rules that typically serve no purpose other than to isolate patients. No referral form, no exam. But the patient made it to the office -- give him an eye exam! Many plans have fax/e-mai1/1-800 number methods for authorization, so use them.

No co-pay, no eyeglass order. Really? You won't start a $300 eyeglass order until you get a $10 co-pay? Doesn't make much sense to me, considering the high likelihood of getting paid.

If you make the rule, enforce it

If you have a sound, valid reason for an office rule, enforce it. Otherwise, why have it in the first place? These rules, signs and policies serve no purpose other than to alienate, agitate and aggravate your patients. And none of those are good practice-building strategies.

Think about policy signs you might see in a well-run, customer-friendly retail store or first-class hotel. You probably can't think of any. Instead what you'll envision is a warm, inviting, caring and comfortable environment that encourages you to spend money. We should configure our offices similarly to eliminate any potential barriers and help build relationships with our patients.

Reassess your signage

As you analyze any rules, policies or signs you might have in your office, do so from your patients' perspective. Is the sign there for that one patient in a thousand, or does it serve a true, legitimate purpose? If it's the latter, keep it. If not, discard it.

DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY WHOSE MISSION IS TO MAKE OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM OR CALL DR. GERBER AT 800-867-9303.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2002