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One of the most important factors in practice development is the patient's opinion of service quality at your office. Evaluating his or her experience is something every patient does at every visit. The overall effect of that evaluation on practice growth is huge because word of mouth recommendation is the largest source of new patients for private practices. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing available to us.
Smart practice owners actively increase the word of mouth referral factor by analyzing and improving the typical patient experience in the office. This process is called influence point analysis. Influence points are the interactions your practice has with a patient. The Walt Disney Company and others have called them moments of truth; Ritz-Carlton hotels refer to them as key success factors and many other top organizations have studied how they interact with customers.
The best place to start this analysis is by making a list of influence points that occur in your practice. It is a very large list: there are minor influence points and major ones; we can consider direct points and indirect ones. In this tip and in the weeks ahead, I'll help you perform this powerful management project which can lead to a reengineering of your procedures and ultimately, faster practice growth.
Simply making the list of influence points will help you analyze them. Think about each point from the patient's point of view, not your or your staff's point of view. It may help to actually walk through your office as if you're a patient. Spend some time observing areas of patient flow that you don't usually see, such as the initial greeting at the front desk. Don't assume that the way you originally envisioned your practice operations is the way they are actually conducted at present. Office procedures have a way of changing over time.
Consider the following as you analyze each point of interaction:
Force yourself to look at each point from the patient's point of view. How would you feel about this if you were the patient at your dentist's office?
Who are the staff members in charge of each point?
How much of an investment of money and resources is given to each point?
Have patients made any comments about each point?
Are the points coordinated with each other (are there interdepartmental gaps)?
Are there any uncontrolled influence points? An example is negative word of mouth where a patient talks badly about your practice to others.
Do your colleagues and competitors handle each point differently?
How do other businesses perform each point (hotels, restaurants, big box retail stores, hospitals)?
How well do you perform each point?
What would be the ideal way to conduct each point?
The list of influence points
The list of influence points may vary with each practice, but here are some examples. Develop your own list by tracking each step of a typical patient visit at your office.
The first phone call to your office to inquire about services and fees.
The phone call to schedule an appointment.
The appointment confirmation phone call.
The initial greeting at the front desk.
The forms for the patient to complete.
The wait in the reception area, including length of wait and general comfort of surroundings.
General cleanliness of office including the washroom.
Condition of office furniture and décor.
The initial greeting by a pretesting technician.
The pretest experience including instrumentation and communication.
The case history.
The inner-office wait for the doctor.
The greeting by the doctor.
The initial conversation and demeanor of the doctor.
The summary of exam findings, patient education, treatment options and recommendations.
The explanation of the treatment plan and prescriptions.
The ensuing contact lens fitting or eye glass selection and design. This would be a subset of influence points.
Reappointing for additional testing if needed or discussion of recall date.
Summary of fees and insurance coverage.
Request for payment.
Notification of materials ready to dispense.
The dispensing of contact lenses or eyeglasses and instructions given.
Final payment of balance.
The points above might be referred to as primary points because your staff actually speaks directly to the patient or the patient is in your office. A listing of secondary points is also useful and should be analyzed:
A visit to the practice website to find out more information before calling the office.
The recall messages sent by the practice.
Statements sent by the practice.
Newsletters and marketing pieces sent by the practice.
The yellow page ad.
Community organization sponsorships.
We'll delve into some of these influence points in the weeks ahead to discuss how to improve them.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.