Article Date: 11/1/2006

practice management
Hooking Patients With a Sensory Experience

Stimulate patients' senses, this O.D. claims, and your bottom line will benefit.
BY KENNETH A. YOUNG, O.D., Brentwood, Tenn.

It used to be, in private practice, that if you did your best and helped your patients obtain normal, comfortable vision you could count on those patients returning to you. But today, our patients have many choices when it comes to where to obtain eye care, contact lenses and spectacles. Vision plans often dictate when and where patients must go and frequently, there's a discount store around every corner. So delivering 20/20 vision is no longer enough. Private practitioners must go the extra mile to provide exceptional service, care and products. Patients must leave your office feeling they have had a "Wow!" experience. You must stimulate their emotions.

It all starts with the senses

We all know the human body has five major senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. These senses stimulate the emotional centers of the brain. But many doctors don't appeal to them in their marketing efforts. Marketing is not just about getting the facts out — it's also about stimulating the emotional centers inside all of us. Because for the most part, we make decisions based on our emotions.

Consider your local market. It is not uncommon to enter a store now and smell the aroma of bacon, pizza or some other food being prepared. That sense of smell triggers the emotional portion in your brain, causing a physiological response. Stores are acutely aware that stimulating your sense of smell will trigger a hunger response in the brain and hopefully cause you to purchase more goods. Would the store have sold more if it had just told customers that "brand X" of bacon or pizza was voted #1 last year by consumers? Probably not, but by stimulating the emotional centers of the brain, customers also have a physical drive to purchase the product.

Leave no sense untouched

So how does this relate to optometry? We have to understand that we are in a very unique position as health care providers: We not only sell our services, but we also sell merchandise, i.e., glasses and contacts. So we must walk the fine line of making professional recommendations and stimulating consumer/patient behavior to purchase our products. We must influence the mood of the moment. This begins with the first phone call the patient makes to schedule his or her appointment and continues throughout your professional relationship with the patient. In other words, it must be in everything we do.

Most of us enter our offices through a side or back door, but when was the last time you entered through the front door and took a good look around? It's what your patients do every time they visit your practice. Are your décor and furniture still in the '80s? Are there stained ceiling tiles or walls that need to be painted? Is it visually stimulating? What about smell? How about the sounds your patients may hear? Is there pleasant music or is the phone constantly ringing — or are there no sounds at all? These may seem like trivial things, but believe me, your patients take note of them.

Putting it into play

Recently in our office, we've tried to begin stimulating all the senses and we have enjoyed some of the best months our practice has ever had. By this I mean more referrals, an increased patient base and greater profits. Do patients tell us they referred a friend because of the free coffee, or the delicious aromas? No, they don't — but I believe our overall picture here is what's done it. Here's how we appeal to the five senses.

Sight: We began by putting out fresh flowers in several areas of the office, especially at the reception desk. It was amazing how many compliments we got. Staff is in clean, pressed clothing.

Smell: We light scented candles and scatter them throughout the office ("fresh-baked cookie" or "Frazier fir"during Christmas). Again, patients would comment about how "good" it smelled in our office. The fresh flowers contribute here as well.

Sound: We have music softly playing in the office and cable T.V. in part of the reception area.

Taste: We've added a small buffet and set out free coffee for our patients. We bought a single-cup coffee maker, so the coffee is individualized, hot and fresh with each cup. Patients love it!

Touch: Finally, every patient is greeted and parted with with a warm, friendly handshake or a pat on the back. We want our patients to feel appreciated when they choose our practice for their eye care needs.

Stimulating the senses may seem like a trivial thing, but there's truth to the adage,"It's the little things that count."

Dr. Young serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Southern College of Optometry and has worked as a clinical investigator for the FDA and ophthalmic manufacturers.

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2006