Article Date: 2/1/2007

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An Ounce of Prevention
Educate patients on the importance of annual exams to bring them back.

Richard S. Kattouf, O.D., D.O.S.

My office does not pre-appoint patients. We send reminder postcards one month prior to the patient's yearly examination, but the response is very low. Can you offer any suggestions?

A:  Prior to consulting with clients, my company gets data on recall efficiency (R.E.) for the practice. This is defined as the percentage of patients who make appointments within the time frame the office requests. In my experience with this method, the average R.E. is between 15% and 20%. The dental offices I have consulted with have a 60% R.E. Why? The dental profession does a wonderful job of educating the public on the concept of preventative dentistry. Despite the fact that many patients have anxiety about seeing the dentist, they still appear.

Intra-office communication

I've collected data from my optometric clients that show patients who wear visual aids seek their eyecare professional's help every 2.9 years. As optometrists, we must be cognizant of these significant discrepancies. The reason is simple: a lack of intra-office education and communication.

You and your technician have an obligation to educate, motivate and make your patients enthusiastic about their eye exam. The state and national optometric associations haven't taken up this responsibility so, we must do it patient by patient. If we educate patients that their exam is preventive and health-related, just as in dentistry, their attitude about notification to return will change.

Isn't it odd that Medicare classifies O.D.s as physicians, yet we fail to communicate to our patients that our examination is preventive and health related? I've mentioned before the "empty cup syndrome." Patients walk in with no knowledge of preventive eye care, like an empty cup. Sadly, they often walk out with their cup still empty. (For more on this, see "Wellness, Nutrition and Fitness," Jan., 2007).

Let them hear it

The solution to obtain patient exam retention is to develop scripts for all procedures. Your words must convey the answers to three vital questions for the patient:
• What are you doing to me?
• Why are you doing this to me?
• Why must this procedure be performed annually?

Put these scripts on 5" x 7" index cards, and affix them to the base of each instrument so that they are easily accessible. Separate yourself from the crowd. Avoid using words such as "machine," "check" or "drops." Since optometry has three distinct levels, make sure that you, as an independent O.D., use proper medical terminology, and avoid "store" terms. Consider: The language used at a Ritz -Carlton is not the same as the language used at a Motel 6.

Is it important that the staff memorize the script? Yes! Before your technician has a "pity party," share with her the number of times you have to explain presbyopia, strabismus, etc. Repetition exists in every health profession. Alert your technicians never to become robotic in their scripting. Maintain eye contact, and be enthusiastic.

Once educated about preventive eye health care, many patients will refer other family members and their friends to you. In other words, once convinced that they need this mode of care, they'll make appointments for other loved ones as well. The bottom line: Your recall efficiency will sky rocket because you have changed the patient�s focus from materials to prevention and eye health.

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2007