By Maria Sampalis, OD
Jan. 11, 2023
Your patients need you to take an interest in them, getting to know them and fully understand their needs. I have learned that building emotional ties with my patients is a key to providing great care and creating a strong, profitable practice. When you know how to engage with patients to learn about them, and let them learn about you, you are priming your practice for long-term success.
The time I take with my patients has resulted in a patient retention rate of around 90 percent, meaning 90 percent of patients who visit our practice have previously received care from us. Patients will return if they feel you truly care about their needs and preferences, and are able to provide those things to them. Here is how I do it.
Personally Welcome Patients to Your Office
Your staff should be trained to greet and welcome patients as soon as they walk through your door. The doctor should also welcome the patient when they get to the exam room. I like to take it one step further and also tell the patient a little about myself. “Welcome to our practice! I’m Dr. Sampalis, it’s nice to meet you. We like to get to know our patients, so I’ll also tell you a little about myself. I have been in practice for a little over a decade, and specialize in both medical eyecare diagnosis and treatment and refraction for glasses and contact lenses. You probably noticed our nice optical as you walked in. We can look after eye health here and can get you a great pair of glasses, sunglasses, or contact lenses, too. I live not too far from here with my family.”
Building Relationships By Offering Flexibility
Patients can get to know you and trust you, and love your staff, yet you still may not be able to close the sale with them and get them to return for care.
The challenge is that as much as they love your services and products, paying for care, contact lenses, glasses and sunwear all at one time can be significant for many. Offering patient financing via the CareCredit credit card can help more patients move forward immediately.
“Courtney, there is a way you can space out payments for the products we discussed in the exam room. We offer flexible financing on purchases through the CareCredit credit card. Our staff out front can walk you through the simple application process. If approved, you won’t have to worry about paying for it all today. How does that sound?”
Many patients given this option may opt to get the products you prescribed from your optical instead of value hunting elsewhere. They want to buy from the doctor they have established a trusted relationship with–you just have to make it easier for them to do that. —ROB Editors
I then might point to photos of my children, which I keep in the exam room. I sometimes bring up my own children’s eyecare needs if the patient is also a parent. “I know from my own experience how important it is to get their eyes checked every year. They don’t always tell you when they can’t see well. Sometimes they don’t even know it.”
I also share stories and photos from my vacations. Patients then sometimes open up to me about the kind of vacations they like to take. In the process, they may talk to me about activities like golf or boating, which can benefit from specific types of eyewear.
Share Your Own Experience with the Products You Prescribe
You can give patients clinical information about why you are prescribing a specific spectacle lens or contact lens, but the most compelling information you can give them is your own experience.
For example, when prescribing a specific brand of contact lenses, I might say: “Susan, I think you’re really going to like these lenses. I use them myself, and have been very comfortable in them. I put them in early in the morning, and after dinner, they are still comfortable. I don’t get that feeling when I get home that I want to take my contacts out right away.”
Talk to Patients About the Value-Add of the Service You Provide
As an independent practice owner, there will always be another seller that can undercut you on price. However, it’s much harder to get the better of you on service. In our office, we provide free one-year warranty guarantees for our glasses. We also offer free eyewear adjustments that are easy to access–patients know they can drop in any time if their glasses are not fitting them properly or if they need a quick repair.
It isn’t enough to offer these perks, however. I let patients know in my conversations with them, tying in their lifestyle needs: “Mary, I know how it is with kids, how they’re always breaking things. We stand behind our products here. So, if you purchase from us, and one of your kids drops his glasses on the playground and they get scratched or one of the temples breaks off, we will either repair the glasses for you or replace them, if necessary, within a year.”
Patients are appreciative that you took note of their family situation and challenges, and that you will be there for them.
Offer Promotions & Value Packages
In addition to our high level of customer service, we offer promotions, such as 30 percent off a second complete set of eyewear. We also offer value eyewear packages that allow us to capture sales from patients who otherwise would have walked with their prescription. I have trained my staff to have these conversations.
“John, before you leave, I wanted to point out that you may be able to get both glasses I prescribed today from us. If you buy the first pair from us, we would give you 30 percent off the second pair.”
Or: “Jennifer, I want to show you a section of our optical in which you can get glasses that I believe will fit into your budget. These are high-quality frames and you can still get the same lenses I have prescribed for you. It’s just that with these frames, the glasses will be closer to the price you have in mind.”
Appear in Local Media & Post to Your Site
We use frequent posts to our practice website that showcase my local media appearances. For example, I currently have a video posted to our homepage of an interview I did with a local news show about the importance of protecting your eyes. Media appearances, like this , enhance my professional image and gravitas with many patients. It gives patients extra confidence in their doctor if the news shows they watch are turning to that doctor as an authority on eyecare.
Send E-Blasts to Patient Base Reminding Them Why They Should Visit You
Every back-to-school season, we send patients messages reminding them that it’s time to get their children’s eyes checked. I point out the eye health and visual reasons they should be checked.
We also send e-blasts that remind patients of the promotional offers in our optical and about the many products they can purchase from us.
When patients are frequently reminded of you and your practice, they remember how much they liked you and your staff during their last visit. That reminder–if you can back it up with memories of a genuinely great experience–will keep them coming back for more.
Maria Sampalis, OD, is the owner of Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick R.I. and sublease at Warby Parker. She is also the founder of Corporate Optometry on Facebook. Dr. Sampalis is also founder of the job site, corporateoptometrycareers.com. She is available for practice management consulting. To contact: email@example.com