By Chad Fleming, OD, FAAO
Dec. 4, 2019
When you haven’t seen a patient for over a year, there is a tendency to write them off. That’s a shame because reactivating patients who have previously visited your practice is a great source of exam volume and revenue growth.
Most importantly, encouraging these patients to visit your practice for a needed annual exam is important for the patient’s eye health. Here’s how my five-OD practice brings these patients back to our office.
Reactivating patients in need of an exam is also important to us from a business perspective, as over 50 percent of our revenue stems from clinical exams and medical testing.
Prevent Patients From Becoming Inactive In the First Place
Education by the doctor, reinforced by the staff, can prevent inactive patients. The patient visits the doctor and pays for a service. This is a captive audience that is paying to be educated about their eyes, so we as doctors must do our work and spend time educating patients. I’m a firm believer in less time “testing” and more time communicating during the exam. It is amazing to see patients repeat what you have said a year or two ago, and follow-up according to your education. They want it; never assume they don’t. There should never be silence in the exam room. Conversation between doctor and patient keeps many patients from becoming inactive, and ensures a healthy tomorrow for the patient and the practice.
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If the doctor and practice staff cannot give patients a reason to have their eyes checked regularly, then why would they? Many staff and doctors secretly may not believe that patients need regular care. There are many doctors doing vision wellness exams, and not addressing pathology unless the patient complains of it.
In our practice, we believe in diagnosing problems before they become symptoms, then educating the patient on what we are finding. Then when the patient comes in for an exam, we reiterate why they are there.
Be Careful Who You Classify as “Inactive”
We consider a patient inactive only when we have confirmed with them that they are not coming back or they have moved, or when they have passed away. Our practice management system has a checkbox to mark a patient as inactive. We do not mark that after two years because then our patient engagement software will not mine that data for sending out past-due reminders. So, we do not label a patient “inactive” until we hear back from them that they are no longer a patient, or they request us to stop contacting them with appointment reminders.
Remind Them When They Missed An Appointment
We reach out to patients who miss an appointment by calling or texting them that they missed their appointment. We then work to reschedule the appointment for another time. If the patient says they do not want to reschedule at this time, we ask them if we can contact them again as a reminder that their eye appointments are important. If the patient has no medical eye problems, we leave it as previously described. If they have a medical eye condition like glaucoma or diabetes, the doctor will then review the chart, and efforts will be made to document thoroughly that the patient understands that they have a sight-threatening condition that requires regular care.
Don’t Inadvertently Reward Bad Behavior
Some practices may offer a coupon with a discount for eyewear as an added inducement to bring inactive patients back to the office, but we don’t feel that’s the way to go. We do not feel that is fair to the patients who are compliant. Why should a patient be rewarded for being non-compliant? We have had success bringing patients back to our office by just reminding them of the importance of regular care. If they are non-compliant, that is their decision, and rewards result in them expecting something in the future for the same behavior. What gets rewarded gets repeated.
Reach Out to Family Members of Patients in Need of An Exam
There is a feature that our practice management system has that is awesome, in which the names of all family members are listed in a pod with their names color-coded. The colors are coded according to whether they are up to date with their appointments, if they have missed appointments, or if they haven’t been seen for 1-2 years. This feature is a huge schedule builder as staff may notice when checking out a patient who is a mother that her three children have not been examined for over a year. Immediately, four patients are scheduled. It’s a great feature. Combined with our patient education, this brings many patients in who otherwise may have gone much longer without an exam.