By Justin L. Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO
Dec. 16, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, requiring the wearing of masks and other hygiene protocols, and limiting the number of patients in the office at one time, the quality of the patient experience is threatened. Here are keys to maintaining the office experience patients are used to while continuing to protect your patients and team members.
Look for Ways to Add Convenience
Patients want to minimize travel to public spaces, avoid waiting in lines, and doing anything else that might add to their risk of coronavirus infection. Providing added convenience by shipping eyewear to homes, offering curbside pickup/dispensing, leveraging telemedicine for follow-up visits, and utilizing e-commerce solutions, will be appreciated by your patients.
Anticipating needs is another key piece. For example, it’s one thing to have patients wait in their car in the parking lot prior to coming in, but what about your patients who have to take public transportation? Do you offer a place to sit down and rest outside of your office that is shaded (for patient comfort and to prevent artificially increased temperature readings from elevated skin temperatures) or perhaps an outdoor heater now that we are deeper into the colder months?
At Healthy Eyes Advantage, where I am executive vice-president for professional strategies, we partner with ParkingLotCheckIn.com, a text/mobile-based solution for patients to check in from their car and for the office to keep track of where patients are in the process. Communicating these added steps ahead of time when the patient is scheduled and reiterating them during the confirmation process, while leveraging a service like this to prevent delays/patients getting missed, protects the patient experience.
Communication is Critical
New processes and procedures must be communicated to the patient ahead of time during scheduling and appointment confirmation. In the case of patients who are unhappy about mask wear, communicate clearly about why you require masks, express empathy for the patient’s discomfort and offer to resolve the problem (e.g. providing masks to patients without them or offering to reschedule for a–much–later time when masks aren’t required).
Happier Staff = Happier Patients & Happier Patients = Happier Staff
Your team members are the front lines: at the front desk, in the optical and patient work-up. Before stepping foot in the office, your patient has already formed their first impression of your practice and had it reinforced at check-in prior to seeing the doctor. Their lasting impression is from the optical or at check-out. The doctor plays a critical role, but the impressions are made or broken by your team.
Here are a few helpful resources to train support staff to serve patients during the pandemic and beyond:
• At HEA, we’ve created a Recovery Reboot program, which offers comprehensive checklists for all stages of practice recovery. A big portion of these checklists provides staff resources or resources for the owners/ managers to support their staff. They can be found by going to https://www.healthyeyesadvantage.com/covid-19-resources/ and clicking on the Recovery Reboot banner.
• We’ve also launched a new consulting program in conjunction with The Williams Group, called PracticeAdvantage. As part of the PracticeAdvantage program, practices receive access to The Williams Group’s recently launched, online learning library. This learning management system provides comprehensive, on-demand staff training resources with live accountability sessions to make sure your team is able to provide an amazing patient experience.
• An industry initiative by The Vision Council, www.ReopenEyecare.com, continues to provide further staff resources.
• While geared toward hospital systems and general medicine, The Beryl Institute, provides broad resources on maintaining and enhancing the patient experience in the context of COVID-19.
Take Extra Time to Listen to Patients’ Concerns
Time is of the essence in preventing COVID transmission, but when possible, take extra time to listen to your patients’ stories, acknowledge how they feel, address their underlying eye health concerns, and recommend/refer for mental health services when appropriate.
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Address as many problems as you can effectively do during their visit to minimize the need to bring the patient back (if the patient is concerned about returning for follow-up visits). Show you care about their eye and visual health. Remember to still prescribe all the medical treatments and eyewear the patient needs, and thank them for being a patient and trusting you and your team to provide their eyecare.
Common questions patients are likely to have about going to the eye doctor during the pandemic:
• Why are the new, additional steps during my visit necessary?
• Is it safe to get my eyes examined?
• Is it really necessary to have an eye exam right now?
Develop a Script for You & Your Staff to Use as a Guide
To answer your patients’ questions, consider creating a script, which can guide the answers you and your support staff give to patients about the new pandemic experience of visiting the eye doctor.
Here is an example: “Mr./ Mrs. Smith, thank you for your questions, and like you, we understand the concern for staying safe and healthy. We are so passionate about providing the best eyecare in (city), that we’re doing everything we can to make sure our patients receive the care they need. In fact, putting off an eye exam could be delaying the detection of certain diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, prolonging debilitating eyestrain and discomfort, and increasing the risk for permanent vision loss for patients suffering from vision-threatening conditions.
We’ve taken steps, like (insert protocols) to protect your health and the health of our team during your visit. We require masks in our office and we are taking steps to clean our office regularly (expound as necessary). We’re also providing you unique ways to interact with our office via (telemedicine, online digital frame try-on ahead of the visit, etc.).”
Make the Patient the Hero of their Own Story
Improving the patient experience results in happier and healthier patients. Happy, healthy patients want to stay your patients and want to do business with you. They also refer their friends and family. As addressed earlier, happier patients = happier staff, which also impacts the bottom line. Investing in the patient experience means investing in your success.
Most importantly, remember that the patient is the hero of their own story. When it comes to the patient experience, every facet should focus on providing the patient with the experience, resources and solutions needed so they can be more successful and avoid failure in their lives–or, in the case of pandemic, avoid eye health threats and visual discomfort due to delayed eyecare.