Creating a relationship of mutual respect with your patient is the most important aspect of the encounter. The keyword here being, mutual. This respect has to come, not only from your patient, but it needs to flow from your practice at every stage of the visit. Time, price, and attitude are the main three drivers in building this relationship. Let’s look at how, if mutual respect is achieved, you can increase patient retention while truly enjoying the work you do.
Late Patients vs. Late Doctor
Can anyone relate to this? The clock says 10:05 AM, yet your 10 o’clock patient has not checked in for their appointment. The patient that is scheduled at 10:30 has just walked through the door because they wanted to have time to settle in and maybe peruse the frame boards while they wait. Trying to be efficient, your technician takes the early patient back for pre-testing. Your late patient finally arrives and expects you to be ready to get started right when they walk through the door. How frustrating! Yet, it happens all of the time.
Now, let’s look at a situation through the eyes of a patient. Your patient arrives and has mentally planned to be in your office for an hour. They do everything right. They confirmed their appointment, showed up fifteen minutes early to handle any extra clerical fun to be had, and even had their insurance cards ready so copies could be made. They look over at the seating area and see it loaded with patients. “Oh no. The doctor must be behind.” They sit down and the clock starts ticking. The patient is finally taken back for pre-testing twenty minutes after their scheduled time. Then they wait in an exam room for another half an hour, or so, until the doctor comes in. Then, the doctor spends all of ten minutes in the room. Again, how frustrating! Yet, it happens all of the time.
How can these very common situations be avoided? The answer is simple: Respect. Since we can’t exactly control what someone else (i.e., your patient) will do. Let’s look at what we can do. Respect begins with rapport. When looking at time, the practice needs to explain the check-in process and what is expected. However, a statement like, “Your appointment is at 10:00. Come early to fill out paperwork” doesn’t help you build rapport with your patient. Your entire team needs to embrace every patient encounter and understand that each touchpoint with that patient builds the relationship. Instead, the person scheduling the appointment can say, “Thank you for scheduling your appointment with us on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 AM. We will have a few things to take care of when you get here, so please arrive at 9:45. That way, we can be sure to get you started on time”. This lets the patient know that you respect their time and you are expecting them to respect yours.
Communication, trust & then…respect.
Another way to create mutual respect is to build trust. Trust starts with communication. The check-out process can be the most stressful and non-desired position in any office. However, in optometry, there are several components that need to be addressed before checkout to make it a smooth experience.
First, everyone needs to understand that optometry is unique. When patients visit a doctor, they are expecting to pay for whatever is prescribed by that provider. However, in our profession, there is the exciting part where the medical device meets fashion. Fashion means choices. Choices mean sales. Now, we are not just filling prescriptions, we are selling the patient something.
Second, you have to discuss the co-pay. Now you have vision insurance or medical insurance? What diagnosis codes did the doctor send through with the exam? Does the patient understand what the doctor did in the exam room, or will this be a surprise when I tell them they need to pay their $50 medical insurance co-pay instead of their $25 vision plan co-pay?
This can all seem like a nightmare for the poor sap who has to handle this at the end of the visit, but it doesn’t have to be. Communication throughout the entire process will help to stave off any surprises or unhappiness at the end of a wonderful visit. It starts when the appointment is made. It continues in the exam room with the doctor. It continues when choosing eyewear. It continues during the payment collection process. It even continues when scheduling any follow-up visits.
Believe it or not, I have heard patients say they are “not sure why they are in for a visit.” How can we expect someone to be happy about coming to our office, let alone paying another co-pay if they aren’t even sure why they are scheduled? A little communication can save your patient and your staff undue stress.
When patients are communicated with, they begin to trust you and your team. For example: isn’t it an unpleasant experience when a patient, who has been waiting for their brand-new glasses, calls in asking why they aren’t ready? Things happen and that is very understandable. Labs aren’t always on time. However, your patient has no idea that there was a delay. They just think, “Wow! I just spent $700 on my new glasses and my doctor forgot about me.” Wouldn’t it be much easier to make a phone call letting a patient know what is going on?
Not all conversations are easy, no matter how noble your intentions. BUT a little communication sure goes a long way in building trust. AND trust equals respect.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
What is the lifetime value of a patient? The number can be different for each office. However, let’s say each patient provides an average of (on the lower end) $400 in income per visit. That patient visits your office once a year for twenty years. That is $8,000! This is assuming your patient ONLY comes once a year, and ONLY spends $400, and is ONLY your patient for twenty years. Because you earned this person’s respect, they are committing themselves to you for years. This is where gratitude comes in.
It is easy to get stuck in the day-to-day “Which is better? 1? or 2?” mindset. This industry comes with its unique challenges, from staffing, to grumpy patients, to falling reimbursements. It can be easy to get down and let the love for what you do get buried under these challenges. However, there are so many wonderful things optometry has to offer. Helping someone see the world more clearly, to start!
When you view your patients as the reason you are able to run an optometry practice, provide for your family, your staff and their families, it is easier to let the little frustrations go and to be grateful for your patients and their loyalty. Your demeanor can affect so many things. When you treat your patients with kindness and respect, your staff will too. It isn’t a coincidence that when your staff is kind there are fewer of those grumpy patients. Fancy that.
One of the sincerest forms of respect you can show your patient is to listen. Consider hiring a scribe so you can focus on your patient’s needs and not worry about entering information. Another way to ensure that you get more facetime with your patients is to make sure you have an EHR software that fosters the relationship and doesn’t hinder it.
Simply put, it all begins at the beginning. Setting expectations for your patient and your staff from the get-go is how you will lay the groundwork for a great patient encounter and a long-term relationship. Having a tense patient that is waiting for your office to surprise them with a bill or make them late to work because their appointment ran long is unpleasant. Working with a patient that respects you because you respect them is the sweet spot. That is where we all should strive to be.