Who says patients want an eye exam to take a long time?
April 13, 2005
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I love that question because it challenges our traditional thinking and shakes up our world. The answer
is they really don’t. If we think about patients’ wants and needs, they’d like to get it over with – in
much the same way as I’d like to get out of the dentist’s chair when I’m a patient.
Quick eye exams are the opposite of what most ODs are all about. It’s kind of an insult for many of us to
even think about. The long-standing opinion is that if it’s quick – it can’t be good. But if you’re
really objective about it, you’ll see that what we’ve long believed may be incorrect. Beliefs such as:
We can charge a higher fee if we are investing more professional time.
Taking longer enhances the perception of thoroughness.
Our work is perceived as more complex and important if it takes longer.
There are many flaws in this philosophy. Patients are smarter than we think and most have had an eye exam
and glasses or contacts prescribed before. They get it.
I think patients actually want eye exams to be quick – as long as they feel confident in their doctor.
Most don’t want to know all about what we do. We should acknowledge the fact that we may actually be
boring to a large number of patients, and try to alter that possibility. From a business standpoint,
consumers crave a new and better concept, and will reward businesses that can break out of the mold. So,
make the exam process quicker – and they will like it better! Make it quicker and you can even charge more
for it! Patients will love the convenience of a relatively fast exam. Throw in a few high tech items that
are different from the usual eye care experience, like digital retinal photos networked into the exam
rooms, and you have a winning operation.
How do you make it quicker and still cover all the procedures that make up your definition of the standard
of care? Well, first, analyze your standard of care and only perform tests that are needed for each case.
Only you should decide what that is, but it may not be what you were taught to do in school. After you
have that minimal baseline of tests, delegate and automate as much as possible. The goal is to have as
much data as possible when you walk into the exam room. Granted, having a technician collect all that
data still takes time, but automated instruments are generally pretty quick, and having the data lets you
concentrate on interacting with your patient.
Of course, many optometrists rationalize that there is no need to shorten exam times and work on efficiency
if the current patient demand just barely fills the available appointment slots. There are two flaws in
this thinking to me: 1) The free time you create could be used to work on building the practice through
practice marketing and staff training, and 2) patients don’t like the exam process to take a long time!
There is one more excellent reason for making exams efficient: less time spent in the clinical side of
your office means more time spent in the optical side. People will only spend just so much time in your
office; they have a life to get back to. Think about that one.