By Cheryl G. Murphy OD
Learning to conduct eye exams in a second language is easy and affordable with simple-to-use computer language programs. You can measure the rewards in more patient referrals.
It is easier than ever to learn a common language such as Spanish. An affordable computer program can greatly help. Making the effort is worth it as learning a second language is one of the easiest ways to broaden the reach of your practice in your community. Producing marketing materials in multiple languages is helpful, but nothing beats a doctor who can conduct an examination and communicate directly with patients in their native tongue.
Sherin George, OD, of Franklin Square Eye Care in Franklin Square, NY, has invested the time and money to learn Spanish, and she has found it a revenue-generator. In speaking Spanish, she also has built trust and solidified herself as an asset to her community.
Second Language as Revenue-Driver
By learning Spanish, Dr. George has grown revenues. Her new practice has a contract with an employer in the neighborhood that has predominantly (about 95 percent) Spanish employees. Fifteen to 20 patients per week speak Spanish only. "I've become more efficient in my exam and with my chair time with my patients," Dr. George says. The reviews of her practice which this company received from its employees allowed the company to increase Dr. George's reimbursement by $50 per patient, which is about $750 to $1,000 more than what was previously collected from them. This equates to about $50,000 per year. Dr. George spent $300 to purchase the Rosetta Stone computer-based language learning system.
Small Daily Time Investment, Big Payoff
Becoming proficient in a second language requires practice every day. Dr. George spends 30 to 45 minutes every night practicing. "Since Rosetta Stone is quite interactive, its not a chore for me. I look forward to the time I spend learning Spanish," she says. Dr. George spent about $300 to purchase the Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson modules. "Considering my return of $50,000 per year, I'd say, it was worth every penny," she says. "I started becoming more comfortable with engaging in a conversation with my Spanish-speaking patients. My patients also seem more at ease knowing that they understand everything I explain to them."
Create Cheat Sheets
Dr. George made Spanish tip sheets for herself when she first started speaking Spanish to patients. These language reminders helped her become proficient faster, which is important if you are hoping for referrals. “In the beginning of this venture, I used to make cheat sheets and kept it on my clip board for quick reference. Within a few days I was proficient in conducting an eye exam with ease. The best way to get a loyal patient base is by word of mouth referrals. If my patient is confident in the quality of eye exam I provide they will refer their friends and family.”
Provide Marketing Materials in Second Language
In addition to learning a second language, be sure to offer your patients educational materials in their native language. Try to make all forms of communication with them as high-quality and accessible as your communication with English-speaking patients. “I have made great efforts to make these patients feel at home in our practice, Dr. George says. She notes that the practice provides HIPAA notices in Spanish and has Spanish literature available to better educate these patients on ocular conditions.
Hire Spanish-Speaking Employees
Hiring staffers who can speak the second language you just learned will make your patients' entire visit--beyond their time in the exam room--a more beneficial and positive experience. Dr. George asks Spanish-speaking employees to correspond with Spanish-speaking patients. "Any phone calls or letters that need to be made to these patients are made by my new Spanish speaking employee, which makes the patient all the more comfortable," Dr. George says. "I've even had relatives of these employees come to me for eye exams because of our office being a 'Spanish friendly place.' This has enhanced my business more than I expected.”
Learning a second language that many of your patients speak will enable you to improve the services you provide to patients while increasing your practice's revenues.
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Cheryl G. Murphy, OD, practices at an independent optometric practice in Holbrook, NY. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org.