Practice Management

Creating a Winning Patient Experience for a Pandemic–and Well Beyond

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By Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO

This article is part of the six-part series, “Insights to Impact.” Articles in this series will detail the insights that 2020 taught optometry and how those insights translate to actions that are having a positive impact on the profession.

July 28, 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic taught practice owners how important it is to make patients feel safe and secure, all the while delivering a memorably pleasant experience. Patient financing options give patients a sense of control that they may have felt was lost during the crisis of the pandemic. With so much out of their control, it is reassuring to be able to choose how to pay for the treatments their doctor has prescribed. Here is how to create a patient experience that can withstand even a pandemic, and the important role a tool like patient financing via a CareCredit credit card plays in enhancing each patient’s time in your office.

Consistency is Key
Consistency is key along every touch point along the patient journey. This consistency applies to communication and experience before scheduling an appointment, safety and satisfaction during the office visit and continued communication and engagement after the visit. You want the patient to know they are more than just a customer, that they are part of what the practice is doing to better the community. Unfortunately, this is rarely done. A customer experience study found that while 80 percent of CEOs believed their company was delivering a top-notch customer experience, only 8 percent of customers actually agreed.1

At Healthy Eyes Advantage, where I am executive vice-president of professional strategies, we continue to see that practices that communicated with patients throughout the pandemic are thriving. They’ve either maintained a great patient experience or elevated that experience further. The patient experience builds loyalty. A poor experience destroys it.2 According to the Qualtrics XM Institute, 94 percent of consumers would both purchase again from and recommend a company that had a very good customer experience. On the other hand, only 20 percent and 13 percent, respectively, felt the same way about a very poor customer experience.2

5 Insights to Impact

Reassure Patients You’re Still There to Help Them. A crisis like the pandemic requires that patients be reminded that you are there and have products and services to help lessen stress and enjoy life more. That’s a good practice to continue beyond the pandemic to build a strong patient base.

Bridge the Gap Between Prescribed Treatments & Care Received. Patients need to know that during a hard time they can rely on you to do everything you can to help them continue to receive the treatments and products they are accustomed to receiving from you. Patient financing can help you create a bridge between insurance coverage and the cost of the treatment you have prescribed.

Stay Attuned to Your Patients’ Emotions. The pandemic has been a stressful, trying time. It has taught savvy practice owners and staffs how to read their patients’ emotions. Learning how to better read patient needs without them having to verbalize every detail to you will serve you well into the future. Patient financing can be a way to calm frayed nerves by offering additional options to meet eyecare needs.

Educate Patients Upfront. Anticipating patient questions means letting them know upfront what to expect in your office, including new health and safety protocols, and the options available to them to pay for care and prescribed products. Don’t wait for them to express financial concern before telling them about financing options. They may be too self-conscious to ask for it on their own.

Be Service-Minded. Create a team of employees who think in terms of solving patient challenges rather than solely on making the sale. Making the sale is necessary, but to get there, the team has to focus on identifying and relieving patient pain points. Patient financing is a tool that can help you work with patients to solve eyecare and vision challenges, and improve quality of life.

Empower Patients to Receive Continuity of Care
There is no greater consistency than empowering a patient, who is experiencing hard times during a seemingly endless ordeal like the pandemic, to continue receiving the care and eyewear products they need.

As the old saying goes, patients hate to be sold, but love to buy. A practice, therefore, should provide every opportunity for a patient to buy the eyewear, products and medical services they need and are prescribed. Offering CareCredit provides a significant opportunity for the entire patient base. For patients who may have more financial challenges, CareCredit provides a way for patients to receive the care they need now while providing flexibility to pay it off over time that works for their finances. For the patient population that is not in as delicate of a financial situation, offering financing options with CareCredit may provide an additional cash flow opportunity for them to advance their financial goals, while still receiving the care they need.

Recognize the Emotional Element of the Patient Experience You Create
The modern patient experience includes your patient’s introduction to you on your practice website and through your social media pages, but it is most powerfully reinforced during their time in-person with you.

During a hard time like the pandemic, it’s up to you to reassure the patient that your office is still a welcoming atmosphere, despite the health and safety protocols that have been put in place to reduce spread of Coronavirus. When the pandemic is past, you can take that lesson of how to reassure the patient to create a sense of security for all patients, regardless of their personal circumstances.

An easy way to make the patient feel better as soon as they walk through your office is by smiling. As cliché as it may sound, smiling is one of the most effective ways of building connection. The difference between a fake smile and a real smile (a Duchenne smile) is in the eyes. A Duchenne smile results in a narrowing of the eyelids and the appearance of crow’s feet on the outer corners. Even though your mouth may be covered, a patient will certainly know when you are smiling.

Educate Patients Upfront On How to Make Treatment & Purchases More Manageable
Your office will feel much more welcoming and secure to patients when you let them know upfront how the payment process works, and the options available to them that might make their time with you less stressful.

Patients and customers want to be educated on their options, and in many ways, they want to self-educate before they are at the point of sale. This is where your practice can be creative. Share your financing options on your website, on your social media posts and in your confirmation e-mails, so your patients can learn about their options on their own time. Provide easy-to-read materials at the front desk, in convenient places to read while browsing in the optical and at the stations where your opticians complete their eyewear sales.

Waiting for patients to express concern about payment before letting them know all of their options is not a smart approach to take. Many patients may want to utilize financing as a way to ease cash flow for future investments by paying over time. Be sure to offer payment options to all patients so they can decide which option works best for them.

Create a Service-Minded Team
The past year put a strain on staffs, as practice employees continued to have all of their regular responsibilities, plus the added responsibility of keeping patients, co-workers and themselves safe. A lesson to take from that challenging combination of tasks is the importance of building a service-oriented team of employees. Service-oriented means people who are more interested in identifying and successfully addressing patient pain points than just selling products and making a monthly or yearly quota.

A successful practice has an entire team that believes each patient has a unique problem that is impacting their quality of life and the practice has the remedy for that unique problem. When taking this approach, the patient is put at the center of their own story and the services and products become more than services and products. When patients feel at the center of their story, and your practice helps them achieve the goals they have, it creates an unbeatable experience.

Patient financing powered by the CareCredit card is one of the tools practices have at their disposable to help patients get to the center of their own story and receive all the solutions you and your team feel will help them live their best lives.

Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO,is the executive vice-president of professional strategies at Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA). He can be reached at JManningOD@hea2020.com.


References

1. “Closing the Delivery Gap” by James Allen, Frederick Reichheld, Barney Hamilton, and Rob Markey. 2005. 

2. “ROI of Customer Experience, 2020.” Moira Dorsey, David Segall, and Bruce Temkin,  August 18, 2020

 

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This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other advisors and/or medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in this article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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