By Susan Resnick, OD, FAAO, FSLS
Dec. 1, 2021
We were already witnessing shifts in consumer behavior as a result of the technology boom of recent years, but the pandemic greatly amplified the need to respond to our patients’ desire for digital and virtual services.
Millennials and Generation Z are the demographic segments driving the changes we are making to successfully compete on both the clinical and retail levels, however, the pandemic further highlighted the value of these services to all patients.
Here are three changes we implemented to create a true 21st century office. These improvements have enabled us to create a better patient experience while enhancing profitability. I estimate that, altogether, these practice changes have added at least $50,000 annually to our practice.
The pandemic was the main impetus for integrating telemedicine services into our clinical and communications protocols. There was a critical need to be able to see and speak virtually with patients experiencing problems who were unable to be seen in-person. In the past we would have conducted a brief telephone triage, but the majority of patients calling with problems were then scheduled for appointments. Virtual consults allow us to take it one step further and initiate treatment, when prudent, prior to, or instead of during, an in-office visit.
We set strict limits on what we would treat virtually. For example, any complaint of reduced vision, injury or floaters/flashes would disqualify the patient from a virtual consultation. The majority of patients seen virtually had issues related to styes, chalazia, allergies and subconjunctival hemorrhage – all easily managed with first-line therapies. Any condition not improving warranted an in-office follow-up.
The electronic platform we use is Doxy.me. It is simple to use, secure and free. This platform also provides a Business Associates Agreement (BAA). It took just a few minutes for each of our doctors to sign up. We spent about a half hour training our staff on which conditions we would consult on via telemedicine. A mutually convenient time is appointed for the virtual consultation and the patient and doctor log on at that time.
This service has been incredibly well-received by our patients. They are grateful for our commitment to their care, even if remote. We received no push-back on fees as they value our time just as much, if not more, given the convenience and timely attention.
We provided remote services to roughly 200 patients over the past year, resulting in net profits of over $5,000.
Virtual Frame Selection
With multiple online “disruptors” in the eyeglass market, we recognized the importance of providing a virtual frame “try-on” option to our patients. For this e-commerce purpose, we launched Fittingbox one year ago. We do not offer complete eyeglass ordering services, but patients are able to select frames prior to their visit or order a new pair of glasses without a visit if we have a current prescription on file.
We currently offer over 1,500 frame styles for women and men, including sunglasses. The link to the fully integrated Fittingbox page is on our website and is also optimized for mobile devices.
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As a Vision Source practice, we benefited from excellent pricing at $1,650 for a two-year subscription. We have filled several dozen orders as a result of online frame selection.
While most patients still prefer in-person frame selection and styling guidance, virtual try-on is a fun way for patients to engage with our optical, and it drives them to our other webpages.
Google Reviews are a critical component of our external marketing. Whether directed to us through word-of-mouth referrals, or via internet search, prospective patients use online reviews as a key factor in their final decision to choose us for their eyecare needs.
Over the past year, we redoubled our efforts to professionally and efficiently generate positive Google Reviews. At the end of each day, our doctors and staff select the patients whom we deem most likely to post positive reviews. These include all “happy” new patients as well as current patients.
A link to our Google Review page is then sent via text to each patient. Some patients will just rate us, but many will also post a written review. We currently have around 400 Google Reviews posted about our practice.
There was no monetary cost to implement this important approach to marketing in our digitally driven world, other than the minimal time it took to train our team. The financial and intangible rewards, however, are considerable.
Of those we were able to positively identify, 10 percent of our new patients were tracked to internet-driven self-referral. We look forward to building on this strong start over the coming years.