I'm constantly looking for ways to increase patient demand for my practice and for my clients. Everything flows from the appointment schedule. If it's booked solid and booked ahead several days, you will obviously increase gross and net revenue, but strong patient demand can also lead to other strategies you could implement:
Have the confidence to raise fees and product pricing.
Explore ways to see more patients per day without sacrificing quality.
Delegate more to staff, which may require an increase in staff.
Acquire new instrumentation to assist staff with data collection.
Move to a larger office to handle the increased patient flow.
Ultimately, hire an associate OD to see a larger segment of patients allowing the owner to spend more time as CEO.
Here is my list of the major factors that influence patient demand:
Word-of-mouth referral heavily influenced by customer service
Insurance provider lists
Marketing projects of all kinds
Recalling established patients for ongoing care
All of these are important and worthy of our attention, but I will focus on the last point for this article.
Recall is the core of patient demand
Established patients make up about 70% of the exams performed in an established practice. If we can find a way to increase the effectiveness of the recall system so more patients return in a timely manner, we can greatly increase the number of people in the appointment schedule.
The most popular methods for notifying patients that they are due for their eye exam are postcard reminders and preappointing. Email and texting are increasingly being used as an alternative recall method and for confirming existing appointments. These are all excellent techniques that should be a major part of your recall system, but a strong weapon that is rarely used is the human voice. The personal touch of a phone call, when done properly, can greatly increase recall success.
The telephone recall system
In my view, telephone recall occurs as a follow-up to the other methods. A telephone recall list is generated by the practice management system each month. This list consists of patients who are six months past due for their exam. These are patients who did not respond to the postcard or pre-appoint recall method.
It is extremely important that the recall phone call is performed with great care and caution. A phone call can be viewed as intrusive by some people and might feel like a solicitation for business if not handled well. I recommend an office manager or the doctor listen to a sample of these calls to ensure the patient perception is positive.
I don't use scripts very often because I prefer staff members to sound natural using their own words, but I help them with an opening statement as you'll see below. A good recall specialist can take it from there. More important than a script is getting the right staff member to make the calls. We want someone who is sweet, caring and kind by nature.
A guide for making recall phone calls
Consider modifying this list to suit your practice and print it to assist your staff with the telephone recall project.
Before calling, check to see if the patient is eligible for eye care with a vision plan previously used. If yes, this is very important to mention early in the call.
Check other history, such as: age, last visit date, special notes, which doctor was seen last, and type of vision problems. If patient is under 18, place the call to a parent.
If you must leave a voice mail, just identify yourself and our office and ask the person to call back. Have a copy of the call list on hand so all our other staff members will know how to handle a call back and will not have to take a message.
This is the basic lead-in statement when you actually speak to the patient: “Oh hello, Mrs. Smith! (warm, smiling, speak loudly, slowly and clearly). This is ______ at Gailmard Eye Center. I noticed you are past due for your eye exam and the doctor just wanted me to check to see if you are receiving our reminder notices and if everything is alright.“ Wait for a response.
Respond to the patient's response with great kindness, understanding, respect and concern. If everything seems OK, ask if the patient would like to schedule an appointment. If patient declines, ask if we should continue to send reminders and if he/she prefers email or regular mail.
If there was a problem with our service in the past, apologize and express how concerned you are. Explain to the patient that we would like to take appropriate steps to fix the problem or make up for it in some way. Invite the patient to come in if it is an eyeglass problem. Tell the patient that you will speak to the manager and she will be in contact. Thank the patient for letting you know about the issue. Report all problems to the office manager.
Keep a call log. Write notes about each call made and indicate if an appointment was scheduled.
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.