Article

LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY TO COMPETE

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING OPPORTUNITIES TO ATTRACT AND RETAIN PATIENTS

PHOTO: peshkova/denisismagilov/pixelliebe/stock.adobe.com

IN THE New York Times’ best seller, “The Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch, the late Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor, wrote, “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” Although Mr. Pausch’s quote is not directed at private practice optometrists who lament about competition, I think it certainly applies.

The Annual Technology issue also includes:

If you, as a private practice optometrist, would like to implement ways to compete instead of complaining, consider the following ideas on how to leverage technology and achieve practice success.

MARKETING

While billboards, radio and TV advertisements remain successful in some areas of the country, to truly compete, private practices need to focus on offering blog-driven websites, social media channels, improving search engine optimization and driving positive online reviews to both attract and retain patients. These efforts build through time, so if you haven’t started, the competition is pulling further ahead. (Consider strategies from here: http://bit.ly/2bmfKdm , http://bit.ly/1XeShu3 and http://bit.ly/2GEAf1P . Also, look to this publication’s “Social Media” column published bi-monthly.) Once patients seek your care, what can you do to increase the likelihood they’ll stick with you? The answer is making sure they remember you throughout the entire year and, especially, when it’s time for their annual exams. To accomplish this, email periodic newsletters, video birthday greetings, and consider using your electronic health records to cull patient information, so you can send exclusive emails about new products or treatments you feel could personally benefit them.

For example, if “Frank” has been complaining about the vision provided by his multifocal contact lenses, and you become aware of a new multifocal product, you can let him know about it!

Additionally, facilitate the scheduling of patient visits via offering online exam scheduling through your practice website. When it’s time to remind patients of appointments, use every form of communication to do so. This includes email, phone (yes, your office can do automated phone calls) and text messages.

Setting up these marketing technologies may take some time up-front, but they are well worth the effort. Something else to consider: Often, your vendors can provide easy-to-edit content you can re-purpose, saving you and your staff content development time. Just ask them! Remember, many of these opportunities are free or low cost. This is particularly true of recalls and reminders by email and text. It’s an Amazon world, so patients expect convenience.

IN-OFFICE EXPERIENCE

What “wow” factors do you have in your practice to make patients want and look forward to returning? Technology you can use in-office to create patient excitement:

  • A “selfie” area. Consider putting one in your optical area, so patients can take photos of themselves trying on different frames and then post them to their social media channels for input from friends and followers. (Software and custom hardware can help you automate this.)
  • Cell phone charging stations. While we want patients to be shopping while they are waiting, a large cause of anxiety is if one’s phone is going to run out of battery. Also, if the patient is there with the family and wants the kids to stay entertained with videos, a charge station is very appreciated.
  • Shopping trays. Have felt-lined shopping trays available. When there is more than a few minutes wait, the front desk can give the shopping tray to the patient and say, “Go shop and play. We’ll hold the tray for you when you go in to the exam.”

OPHTHALMIC EQUIPMENT

Your medical optometry offerings should positively differentiate your brand and, therefore, retain patients and generate referrals. I consider the following as examples of technologies every independent practice should employ:

  • Advanced dry eye disease (DED) treatments. Offering thermal pulsation, for example, can help meibomian gland dysfunction patients achieve relief.
    The procedure is fast, virtually painless, and many patients see results right away.
  • Corneal topography. This has applications in a wide range of corneal analysis and treatment procedures, including orthokeratology and contact lens fitting.
  • Retinal photography. Devices that provide ultra-widefield imaging, for example, not only aid you in diagnosis and management, they also leave a powerful impression on patients, who can’t help but to look in awe and ask questions.

Keep in mind that these medical optometry technologies benefit a large cross section of most patient bases, making them huge opportunities for you to educate patients about your expertise and the benefits they derive from being your patient.

STAFF EDUCATION

Your staff must be an educated voice of experience and expertise, otherwise patients have no reason to make purchase decisions at your practice. So, how can you get your staff members the education they need to help patients and your practice prosper?

Online learning has greatly improved to include genuine learner accountability to ensure the course work has been completed. Also, online learning doesn’t require travel, which can be costly. (Here are examples of online education sites: jcahpo.org , eye-courses.com and quantumoptical.com .)

I also encourage you to look at Pryor and Lynda (a LinkedIn product) for staff education. Courses are offered in everything from programming, marketing, human resources, accounting and more.

A staff member with the aptitude and desire to learn a skill can enhance your business, so encourage and support them!

Uncover opportunities with EHR to determine which staff members are succeeding or may need help. For example, you can offer “Debbie” additional training, a mentor or an incentive to improve her AR lens-dispensing numbers.

RECRUITING/HIRING

Two trends are unfolding for employers looking to attract talent: (1) It is a tight labor market with low unemployment in many markets, and (2) prospective employees are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them.

Technology offers tools, such as Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Covalent Careers that you can use to ensure your practice is a desirable place to work. When you have an opening, you want dozens of excellent candidates vying for the position. Your online presence can make that happen.

PRACTICE METRICS/BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT

You no longer need to stay late at the office to review the books or update patient charts, thanks to technology. Now, you can head home, have family time and then check on the business (maybe pay some bills online) or follow up with patients via your HIPAA-compliant cloud service.

Also, you have a great deal of information living in your practice management software. Information is good. Understanding what it means is better! Improve your profitability with tools that can help you uncover trends and opportunities in your practice.

How much better off would your practice be if you knew how many second pairs your patients are buying? What does your frame inventory turnover look like? How old are your accounts receivable?

If you want to be a great manager and practice owner, you need to not only have the data, but also have context for its meaning. Then, you can make informed data-driven decisions. This information should be no farther away than a click of a button. If it is, then research products that can analyze this information and, thereby, save you time and improve your practice finances.

Your practice has a lot of technology that can have an enormous impact in every area of your business. You can use it to survive, or you can use it to thrive!

FURTHER INSPIRATION

Prof. Pausch, quoted at the beginning of this article, died in 2008 at age 47 from pancreatic cancer. His book remains available, as does his lecture: “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” at http://bit.ly/1bKr6Ds . OM