By Cheryl G. Murphy, OD
Friendly persistence pays off when it comes to patient recall and rescheduling. Thanks to today’s technologies, optometrists can choose from a variety of different strategies to aid them in successfully recalling, retaining and rescheduling their patients.
My dentist has his own system of recall down to a science. His efforts are relentless and effective while still being polite. When I moved to a new area 12 years ago, I needed a new dentist. I naturally chose my husband’s dentist, the one he had gone to since childhood. Within the first couple of years of becoming his patient, I noted the dentist’s persistence in ensuring I visited every six months for my regular checkup and cleaning.
I would get the run-of-the-mill reminder postcard in the mail, usually with a picture of a giraffe or zoo animal smiling big on it, but in addition, I would get called repeatedly by his office once every two weeks or so until I would finally check my date book and schedule an appointment. In other words, they didn’t take my “I’ll have to check my schedule and get back to you” as a cue to end their efforts. They tried again. I didn’t mind the reminder calls either. The staff were always cheery and friendly over the phone and I found their persistence helpful as I was busy and kept forgetting. After all, I wanted to maintain a healthy and white smile for years to come and their calls showed me they wanted that for me, too.
As optometrists, do we incorporate the same tenacity in ensuring our patients keep up with their eye exams and appointments? Do we send reminders and make phone calls to be certain our patients are visiting us as often as they should? I know some offices do their best to make annual recalls a priority with postcards or by pre-booking a year in advance, but what can we do beyond that? In other words, if the patient still does not schedule an annual exam after receiving a postcard, do we even notice? If they cancel the appointment we automatically pre-booked a year in advance and do not reschedule at that time, what happens next?
Should we create a grand master list or database that we can reference during our “down time” in the office, calling and tracking down patients who haven’t seen us in two years or more to be certain we are giving them the quality and frequency of care they deserve?
What happens when one of our patients misses an appointment or cancels an appointment they recently booked? I believe most ODs call to ask them to reschedule at least once, but should we be calling them twice, maybe one to two weeks later providing them the courtesy of a friendly reminder to reschedule again? What about two weeks after that?
Some offices have chosen to embrace the newest technologies to enhance their methods of communication. For example, e-mails can serve as convenient reminders to patients of their appointments and online scheduling is great for patients making appointments after hours like when they get home from work. Genbook is an example of an online scheduling software that gives tech-savvy patients the ability to make an appointment online. It costs the doctor’s office about $20 to $40 per month to use. If you have online booking available, you may want to let your hard-to-track-down patients know of this alternative via voicemail or a polite e-mail.
If ODs want to go one step further than online booking, they can become even more effortlessly connected to their patients by signing up for a customizable online communication service such as Solution Reach or Demandforce which each cost around $300 per month. These services perform several features seamlessly such as sending appointment reminders to patients, allowing patients to make a payment to their doctor online, attempting to reactivate lost patients who haven’t been seen by the doctor in years, and they can even send personalized birthday greetings to patients on their special day.
If the price of these online services seems too high, other eye doctors say one doesn’t necessarily need to buy a subscription to an outside online communication service to manage patients. If they and their staff roll up their sleeves personally and put in a little extra effort each month, they can professionally engage and retain patients through e-mail and phone calls with potentially less cost to the doctor. A Google e-mail account for the office can be set up for free for e-mails and online services like Mail Chimp allow one to send e-newsletters to a limited number of patients online for free. However, one has to keep in mind that if you manage several practice locations, an online communication service would allow you to better coalesce all patient recall and rescheduling of those locations under one umbrella program.
Whatever method you choose, stick with it and don’t give up. Develop a staff that is fully aware of the importance of patient retention and recall and proactively works to increase it. Ideally, the office should become passionate about recall, integrating it into their way of thinking and making it part of the culture of the office. Show the patients in your practice that you care about their ocular health as well as the optimization of their vision and are determined to provide them with the best eye care possible. Once put into action, it will become second nature, and you just have to determine which method would work best for you and be consistent. A little persistence can pay off for you and also help your patients.
How does your office currently conduct patient recalls and rescheduling? Have you ever thought about extending these efforts and becoming more persistent and numerous in your reminders (in a friendly manner, of course)? What methods or techniques have you found to be most successful in getting patients back in your chair?
*Special thanks to the “ODs on Facebook” group for providing a riveting discussion on this topic. Their experiences, opinions and advice helped shape this blog.
Cheryl G. Murphy, OD, practices at an independent optometric practice in Holbrook, NY. You can like her on Facebook or follow her on twitter @murphyod. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org.