As a consequence of the pandemic, healthcare consumers’ perceptions have been permanently altered. There is increased familiarity and acceptance of digitally-delivered services as well as products. A recent study by Accenture revealed that 74% of people are likely to use online chat or texting to provide check-in information before their next appointment and 58% of healthcare consumers are likely to use virtual visits for future healthcare needs. Another study by Morning Consult showed that 72% of adults who have used telehealth have accessed virtual care through their existing provider or health plan while 17% have received care through a direct-to-consumer platform.
Convenient Patient Experience
Roughly 90% of telehealth users described their experience as “friendly,” “easy,” and “affordable.” What’s more, patients have reassessed their lives and are willing to abandon those companies that don’t recognize their new priorities. Healthcare is top-of-mind now, however consumers are seeking convenient, easy access to care. Patients want to see that their providers are responding to the call for more patient-centric care and leaning into technology that enables the practice to conform to their lifestyle rather than the other way around.
The demand for convenient access to care is already being addressed by major players in our industry. The National Association of Vision Care Providers (NAVCP) has a policy statement recognizing virtual comprehensive eye exams, which you can read here.
By the way, 61% of the US population has a vision care plan according to NAVCP. Optometry schools are also getting involved in telemedicine. Even some pharmaceutical manufacturers are arranging telehealth appointments with providers local to the consumer. Tele-optometry by companies such as Digital Optometrics and 20/20 Now is gaining traction. EyeQue, a product allowing smart-phone-based refraction using an add-on device saw 300% increased usage during the pandemic. On the product side, 1-800-Contacts sales doubled and Warby Parker also experienced growth during the pandemic.
Options for Your Practice
So how should ECPs react to all of this? First, consider surveying your patient base to discover areas where convenience could be improved and gauge the level of interest in any of the possible changes or additions you are willing to consider. Step back and look at your processes from the patient’s perspective. How can you make it easier and more efficient for the patient while still delivering quality care? The following is simply a short list of possibilities:
- In-office efficiencies such as scheduling eyeglass dispensing appointments, curbside delivery, QR codes on frame boards linking to features and benefits, contactless payment, contactless measurements and try-ons;
- Online access for patient registration, patient history, booking appointments, making payments, patient education;
- Online contact lens sales (website and/or social media-based);
- Online optical services ranging from order status to virtual frame try-ons to online ordering. (website and/or social media-based);
- Take-home diagnostic equipment for monitoring IOP, visual fields, refraction;
- Tele-optometry for follow-up visits, refraction, comprehensive exams.
There are many ways that you can and now should begin to meet your patients where they want to be met in the delivery of services and products. There is no need to reinvent the practice overnight, but make plans to get started on this journey now. More than ever before, your patients will appreciate your interest in their needs and willingness to evolve.