Article Date: 9/1/2002

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Recalling Patients
See why most recall systems don't work -- and what to do about it.
Gary Gerber, O.D.

Dr. James Aversa called me recently saying that he had more patients than he could handle.

"Oh really?" I replied, surprised that too many patients could ever be a problem.

"Yes," he continued. "The recall system you showed us is now in place and the phone is ringing off the hook. We weren't prepared for this great of a response. Where did all of these people come from?"

Realizing recall's impact

Most of us don't realize how important recall systems are. As I said to Dr. Aversa, consider what would happen to your bottom line if you:

ILLUSTRATION BY PETER BONO

The final point is inane, but it underscores what would happen if the frequency of patient visits increased. Yes, we know it's not only clinically important to provide ongoing care, but also fiscally important to a practice's health. So why do so many recall systems fail? Here are five reasons:

1 O.D.s don't realize the importance of ongoing care.

"Recall isn't that important. I need new patients in my practice." I must hear that from every client I'm about to work with. But considering the effort and cost of acquiring a new patient versus getting existing patients to return, your bottom-line net is almost always greater with returning patients.

2 Recall systems don't seem to exist inside of O.D.'s offices.

Here's how a typical new client explains his recall system to me: "We send out postcards when we have time." That's not a system. Doctors have systems to collect money, order contact lenses and book appointments, yet few focus on the most important practice-building system -- getting existing patients to come back to the office.

3 Doctors don't assign someone specifically to do recalls.

"I thought you sent the postcards," exclaimed the harried tech when the receptionist asked about last month's recalls because of the empty patient schedule. Assign one person whose only task is to run your recall program. That way, it gets done. And if it doesn't, you know who's responsible.

4 A lot of O.D.s don't think that recall systems work.

Some recall techniques work for some practices and others don't. Continually refine and develop the proper strategy for your practice. Test all parameters: The medium (e.g., post card, e-mail, phone call); the time of delivery (e.g., 1 month before, 2 weeks before); the message (e.g., generic eye health or personalized optical). Each of these is intertwined and affects the rates at which patients do -- or don't -- return. The system I use with clients took 5 years to develop.

5 They don't pre-educate patients before their next visit.

Telling your patient, "You need to come back next year because you have ophthalmodiddlyitis," isn't pre-education. Your entire office must send a clear and consistent message. Evidence of your commitment to care should be everywhere. The words you use, the signs you display and the way you communicate with patients should all carry your recall philosophy mantra. That way your patient expects to hear from you next year and isn't surprised that she's being asked back.

If it's broken, fix it!

Examine your recall program to see if it's subject to any of these pitfalls. If so, fix it immediately and you too will wonder where all those people are coming from!

DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZED IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM OR CALL DR. GERBER AT 800-867-9303.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2002