Article Date: 10/1/2003

o.d. to o.d.
Are Your Patients Satisfied?
How can we tell whether our patients are really happy? There's a simple way to find out.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor

Optometry has unique concerns when it comes to patient or "customer" satisfaction. One of our primary challenges is in the typical delivery model in which the practice provides professional care as well as the retail-related sale of glasses and contact lenses.

This delivery model presents challenges that the optometrist must manage before the patients satisfaction or lack there of is accurately evaluated. For example, what do patients perceive to be the purpose for their visits to our office? Do patients visit our office because they recognize the need for comprehensive eye examinations on a regular basis or because they need new glasses or contact lenses? Perhaps it's one or the other or perhaps both. But how do we know for sure? The answer is simple: Just ask!

You won't know unless you ask

Patient surveys relative to patient use of services and their satisfaction with these services provide us with valuable insights as to why patients really visit our practices. These surveys can also give us insight as to whether patients are happy with and perceive value in the level of service they receive and in the materials that we provide.

Few optometrists actually survey their patients or ask for feedback. If I had to guess (and I do have to guess because I'm not aware of any national numbers that provide this information), I would say that less than 2% of private optometric practices survey their patients on a regular basis. Certainly surveying patients takes some time, effort and expense and for some this minimal investment is the reason why they don't conduct surveys. Perhaps the most common reason why optometrists don't survey patients is because they feel that they are so closely in tune with their patients that they know what their patients like and what they will or won't accept as new technology or patient care options made available to them.

From what I've seen over the years, optometrists who manage their practices based on what they think patients want are practices that are limited in the services they provide and are less likely to satisfy patients who, more often than not, use a different value system in choosing their source for care and materials.

Patient surveys are a vitally important part of knowing your market, which is not only one of the primary tenants of marketing, but perhaps the most important. So, if you're one of those practitioners who isn't currently surveying your patients, not asking them what they want, not asking whether you're meeting their needs, not asking them where you and your staff could improve your efficiency or quality of service, then it's time to start.

Starting out is easy

Start with something as simple as 10 questions that patients can answer on a single piece of paper. Ask about appointment availability, the convenience of your office hours, the courtesy of your staff and doctors, the perception of time spent with them during the examination and how well you explained what you did, the delivery time you provide on materials and the perceived value of what you and your staff provide.

Offer this to your patients as they leave the office along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope and allow them to respond anonymously. Address the each patient's responses and you'll reap many benefits. Patients will see that you listen to what they say and that will make them happy.

Don't miss your chance

If you aren't going to survey your patients because of the time it will take to type the questions, make multiple copies and give away a stamped, self-addressed envelope, then don't worry -- sooner or later someone else's practice will.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2003