Article Date: 11/1/2005

5_05 Business

business advisor

Is it Time To Rethink Recall?
Get patients to schedule their exams when you need to see them.

If you are like every other O.D. I know, you want advice on how to maintain a good recall system so your patients will come back on a regular basis. My first recommendation is to treat recall as a process, not a one-time event that takes place a year or two after you've seen a patient.

The best recall program begins the first time a patient comes into your office. That's when you and your staff should start laying the groundwork in terms of educating patients about the necessity of regular eye health checkups. If you don't stress the importance of return visits when the patient is in the office, it's naïve to expect he or she will come back on a regular basis, no matter how slick or persistent your recall efforts are.

And while you can delegate the mechanics of recall, it's your job as the doctor to give the patient a specific reason for wanting to see you again. The best time to do that is when you are finishing your exam and the patient is still seated in the exam chair. Your professional influence will never be higher.

How often do you want them?

I recently shared the podium with well-known consultant Gary Gerber, O.D., president of the Power Practice. He asked the audience an interesting question: "Taking things to extremes," he said, "What if your recall system was so effective your patients came back every week? Would that be good for your practice?"

The answer is, of course, "No." You would be a lot busier, but you would spend most of your time seeing patients who didn't need eye care or eye wear. That's not good for your patients, and it's certainly not good for your practice.

Very few of your spectacle-wearing adults with stable vision and no health concerns need to be seen more than every year or two. Contact lens patients, on the other hand, need to be followed annually, if not more often.

Striking a balance

But let's be honest, part of the reason it's not good to see spectacle patients more often than necessary is the economic consideration. According to a recent study by Essilor of America, 74% of the total revenue generated in a dispensing practice comes from the sale of products such as glasses and contact lenses.

In theory, that 74% means if your appointment book is full, you displace a $300 eyewear patient every time you see an exam-only patient at $75. For that reason, I see nothing unprofessional or unethical in recalling the typical, healthy patient around the time they need to replace their eyewear. Surveys tell us that's about two years for most people.

I think we can all agree that providing value in your practice is not about selling products or delivering services that patients neither want nor need. In fact, I define professionalism as always putting the best interests of your patients above your desire to make a profit.

In the final analysis, how often you see someone comes down to a question of both wants and needs. Many patients legitimately need to be seen on a frequent basis for eye health or vision reasons. Others will be just fine if they come in every year or two. But that doesn't mean they don't want to purchase additional eyewear more often, especially if they consider you to be a quality provider with excellent service.

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2005