Create an App in a Snap
Market to patients where they’re sure to see you — on their smartphones.
BEN LARSON, O.D., SANFORD, FLA.
The importance of smartphones in your patients’ lives has never been greater. More than 50% of U.S. mobile phone users employ smartphones, according to eMarketer. Also, the research firm reports about 115.8 million people in the U.S. used a smartphone in 2012, a number they expect to climb to 192.4 million by 2016.
Because of this reliance on smartphones, my practice decided to take advantage of this technology and develop its own smartphone app two years ago.
Here I explain how to create an app for your practice, and how to make it a success.
Find a website to assist with creation.
Several companies specialize in helping small businesses with the design and construction of their smartphone apps (For a list of app companies, see “Making Your Life Easier,” April OM, page 48). While Justin Perez, our paraoptometric technician and IT specialist, who has a degree in information systems, managed the creation of our app, you don’t need to have someone in your office with a great deal of tech knowledge to guide you.
When deciding which company to use, consider the following aspects:
► Design templates. Rather than creating a design from scratch, many websites have templates that allow you to easily customize look, feel and functionality. Their content management systems automatically generate code to turn simple text into the design your patients see on their screens.
► Assistance with publishing. Getting your app on the Apple App Store and Google Play for Android phones can be a complicated process. For starters, publishing an application through the Apple App Store requires creation of a developer account and distribution certificate, and data must be uploaded via Apple software. If you don’t have the capabilities or knowledge to complete these tasks, make sure the company can assist with these processes.
► Service and educational sources. Many companies offer videos, articles and blogs that help with designing and improving your app.
► Cost. This is usually mapped out on the company’s website. Some have multiple levels of price plans.
Some of the factors that could affect cost include:
• Number of users and visits
• Assistance with submission and publishing
• Level of customer service and support
• File space
• App design options
► Reviews. Whether it’s the company’s level of customer service or difficulty with creating the app, user reviews can guide you to (or from) the company that will help you with such a crucial investment.
As some companies do not require payment until you’re ready to publish, test multiple websites to see which you like.
Decide what to include in your app.
While some companies can automatically generate content from your website or social media pages, countless additional options can make up your practice’s application.
I recommend you include the following elements:
► Images and logos. Ensure that these are consistent with your brand.
► Contact information. Include links to your website, e-mail address and social media sites. In addition, include a button for patients to call your office in case they have not saved it to their phone.
► Map to your office. This works with the user’s map application to provide directions. This is particularly important for first-time patients or a family member of a patient who has not visited your office.
► Tools for patient education. For example, AMD patients can use an Amsler Grid to constantly check their eye health. I also recommend including an astigmatism test and an Ishihara Color Vision Test in addition to educational videos such as insertion and removal instructions for new contact lens patients. When patients know you have made an effort to put these tools in front of them, it generates a level of trust in your practice.
► Link to schedule an appointment. This is a convenient option for patients who prefer to schedule online.
► Patient reviews. These can be automatically added from user review websites. Patient reviews add credibility to your practice, particularly when a new patient sees positive reviews from other patients.
► Fun elements for patients. This can include vision-related tools such as optical illusions. Anything that encourages patients to use the app and possibly show their friends and family is important.
Market the app to patients.
Once your app is created, here’s how you can let your patients know it exists:
► Tell patients in your office. At any point during a patient’s visit, if we see him/her using a smartphone, we say, “I noticed you have a smartphone. We actually have an app of our own that you can download. And if you do, you’ll receive $10 off your frame purchase today.” Connecting with the patients while also giving them incentive to download has definitely increased the number of users.
Also, we download the app while the patient is in the exam room if we want him/her to use a tool or educational video. This is more direct and effective than saying, “When you get home, download our app.”
► Use your website and social media pages. These pages should include a link to download the app.
Utilize push notifications.
Just like a text message or direct e-mail, push notifications allow you to reach patients outside your practice by appearing on the main screen of their phone — they don’t even need to be using your app to see the message.
Whether it’s an important sale or news of a significant hire, use these notifications to generate interest in your practice. Keep in mind: sending notifications too often (more than one every month) could overwhelm patients, causing them to disable the notifications or delete the app entirely.
Measure the app’s success.
Review how the app is performing on a quarterly basis. Some key metrics to analyze include how many people have downloaded it and what devices were used to access the app. If you see numbers dropping, address this at a staff meeting, and remind your team to encourage patients to download and use the app.
While the return on investment of a smartphone application can been difficult to measure, push notifications can have a significant impact and help generate revenue. For example, each time we have a sale and notify patients, one exam and frame sale or one exam and contact lens fitting covers the cost of the app for the entire year.
Move to the future.
Every time your patients look at their phones, they’ll see your logo, and you will stay on their minds throughout the year.
Our practices need to continue to move forward and offer the convenience of smartphone apps. If we don’t, we’re going to be left behind. OM
Dr. Larson practices at Advanced Eye Care with his wife, Christy. They opened a paperless practice in 1998. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to email@example.com.