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Since we discussed cleaning house last week in a literal sense, let’s consider doing the same thing
with your office forms and paperwork. If we begin with the premise that you want to build a thriving
practice that is based on extreme patient loyalty and word of mouth referrals, then we need to look
at everything we do from the patient’s point of view. I like that little rhyme so much that I made
it part of our mission statement. Practices built on extreme patient loyalty are the best, but they
require the practice owner and manager to care about patients’ wants and needs, including small details.
Nobody really likes to fill out forms. Patients have come to expect it at a doctor’s office to some
degree and they will generally comply, but many eye care offices become overly reliant on forms. It
can happen quite innocently; over the years we develop a form as a way to make data collection more
efficient for staff or to convey an important policy to all. The doctor and staff may not think much
about the forms, but they can create a negative impression on patients. While most forms are on paper,
electronic versions with a touch screen are really not any more pleasant. All questionnaires require
patients to think, make decisions and possibly wonder why the information is needed.
Talking is good, too
Collecting data verbally may be slightly less efficient, but it helps staff to form a bond with
patients. People love to talk about themselves; they love it when someone is interested in them.
By asking questions in a caring, humanistic way, you can make the patient’s visit a feel-good
experience. That builds loyalty and referrals, even if the patient is not sure what it was that
was so special.
In my office, we have a brief history questionnaire that is presented at check-in on a clipboard
and it is available on our practice website if people wish to complete it in advance. Our staff
mentions the online form while making the appointment over the phone. Our history form is for new
patients only and we do not ask to have it completed again as long as the patient continues with our
practice. Our technicians update the allergies, medications and illnesses at each visit and the
business office staff verifies the phone numbers and addresses at check-out.
I have excellent results by having my optical staff ask the typical lifestyle dispensing questions
in person, rather than use a questionnaire. It gets patients talking about their jobs and hobbies,
and the simple act of doing that suggests multiple pairs of glasses. Nothing replaces straight
Even if a form would be a little more convenient for our staff, we prefer to make it easy on the
patient. We want to be noticed for our outstanding customer service and for being easy to do business
Review your forms
Here are a few of the forms that are frequently used in eye care. Review this list and note if your
practice has such a form. Consider if each one is really necessary and if there may be a more patient
friendly way of getting the information.
I’m not saying all forms are bad and I use some of the following in my practice, but be judicious.
New patient demographic form
Medical history and review of systems
Insurance company waiver or signature form
HIPAA notice of privacy practice
Approval form for ancillary testing (retinal photo, Optomap, topography, GDx screening, etc.).
Lifestyle dispensing form
Assorted waivers and informed consents about clinical care, like dilation.
Assorted waivers and informed consents about dispensing, like polycarbonate, reuse of patients
frame, first progressive, etc.
Forms in advance
I know many doctors like to mail forms to patients in advance of their appointments. Some may even
think that an extremely extensive form is somehow impressive – like the office is so advanced and the
information needed is so detailed that the form would be too long to complete in person at the office.
There may some specialty practices where that is true, but for the most part, patients would be more
impressed if eye care services are delivered with less input.
There is also a trend to put history forms online and have them completed in advance electronically
so the information is transferred directly to the practice management computer software. It’s great
when you can get it, but I would be careful of not annoying people by being overly pushy about
completing forms online. Many people are not computer savvy and don’t want to be embarrassed about
I hear complaints by doctors that patients don’t always complete their online forms or don’t always
show up with their paper forms completed when mailed in advance. If that happens in your case there
is a message in it, people don’t like doing it.
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.