Doctor Patient Relations

Strategies to Keep Patients Happy: Prevent Dissatisfaction Before It Occurs

By Larry Golson, OD

The occasional dissatisfied patient is inevitable, but proactive steps can minimize such occurrences. Understand the triggers of patient anger and dissatisfaction–and train your staff to avoid them.

Does this sound familiar? The patient who comes in to pick up her glasses only to find they are not ready? How about the patient who comes in on time for an appointment and ends up waiting in the reception area for over 30 minutes? There are many reasons a patient could become upset with your office, so it is important to be proactive and avoid disappointment before it surfaces. My team and I intentionally imagine possible scenarios where patients can become dissatisfied and plan carefully to prevent the annoyances from ever happening. The Golden Rule at our office: “Anticipate needs. Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.” Here are a few of the common causes of patient dissatisfaction we have identified and the steps we take to keep patients satisfied.

The team at Dr. Golson’s practice, Envision Eye Care Optometry & Eyewear, in Asheville, NC.

Unmet Expectations
Patient dissatisfaction usually involves unmet assumptions that were not delivered on. Even if you never discuss it with patients, most have preconceived ideas about things like how long they should be expected to wait for the doctor after checking in for their appointment, how long they should have to wait for their eyeglasses to be ready for pickup, how much they should have to pay for their eyewear and how helpful your staff should be for them to take advantage of vision plan and insurance benefits. The best way we dispel unrealistic expectations, is to inform the patient of what to expect before they even ask.

Apologize and Let Patients Know the Reason for the Wait
When all pistons are firing in our office, it rarely happens that a patient has to wait an inordinate amount of time to be taken back for their appointment. Our goal is to never let the patient wait more than 10-15 minutes. However, we all know the unforeseen happens at times, and if it looks like we will keep patients waiting in the reception area for longer than expected, my Patient Experience Coordinator apologizes and explains the situation to patients. We then ask if we can do anything to make the patient more comfortable (a cup of coffee or tea, a magazine or an iPad) and give the patient the option of using the time to be shown around the optical dispensary. We find that this one step diffuses most patients who otherwise would begin to grow impatient or think we’d forgotten about them.

Recognize Common Patient Anger Triggers

Waiting too long

When a patient doesn’t know costs before he/she incurs the fee.

Glasses and/or contact lenses take too long to arrive at the office.

When a patient feels we did not communicate something about their appointment length or which doctor that patient will see.

Check Insurance Availability Ahead of Arrival at Office
To prepare patients for how much they will be expected to pay, we check on insurance eligibility prior to the patient’s appointment. We give them a call ahead of their arrival in the office if it looks like their insurance will not cover their exam and/or eyewear and contact lens purchase. That way they can decide whether they want to try to work out the issue with their insurance provider or pay-out-of-pocket for the visit. Either way, the good part of checking on insurance eligibility before the patient ever gets to the office is these patient decisions won’t have to be made after the patient has already taken time away from their schedule and traveled to your office. Having that lead time to plan appropriately helps offset the anger that would occur if the patient had gone through the exam and selected eyewear and then found out–surprise!–that their exam and products would not be covered. We let all patients know (as the insurance companies kindly inform us every time we check on a patient’s benefits) that coverage does not guarantee payment by their insurance. Although it creates more work for us on the front end, it prevents a good amount of unhappy patients who would have otherwise been surprised with a bill for a service that wasn’t covered.

Warn Patients of Fees for Testing
We discuss fees with patients before services are rendered for all non-covered services. Let’s say you see from a patient’s exam that they are at risk of developing glaucoma but insurance won’t pay for further testing. As per standard of care, you need to take retinal images but there will be an $89 fee for doing so that may not be covered by the patient’s insurance. Do you tell them before taking the pictures? Yes! The patient deserves the choice to opt-in or opt-out and since we are in a service industry where there are many options for eyecare, it makes sense to be as upfront and graceful as possible. A member of my team or the doctor will say, “Rob, I see from your medical history that you are at high risk of developing glaucoma. This is a serious condition that can potentially result in loss of sight and we need to take images of the inside of your eyes. These images will give me a sense of the baseline health of your eyes so I can better detect signs of glaucoma and follow your eye health over time. I want to let you know that the fee for these images is $89 and since we are advocates for your best eye health, it’s very important for us to have this information. How does that sound to you?”

Set an Appointment for Dispensing Eyeglasses
Rather than just telling patients the glasses should be ready in 10 business days, I prefer to have our team set an appointment with patients to come back to the office on a particular date and time. We always under-promise and over-deliver in the dates we give patients to come back for the glasses. For instance, if we are fairly certain the glasses will be ready in five days, we will set the appointment for them to come back in seven or eight days. We also let the patient know that if the glasses will take longer than expected, we will call them ahead of time so we can reset this appointment. Doing this avoids the patient having to call to see what’s taking so long with their glasses, or, worse yet, showing up at the point when you told them their glasses would be ready only to find they are still not done.

Control Expectations for New Glasses
Since many first-time prescription spectacle wearers will experience some distortion or oddness in their vision when they put on their new glasses, it is important to warn patients of this: “Susan, I want to let you know that the glasses may make you feel odd initially–your vision may seem a little strange at first. Don’t worry! This isn’t permanent and it’s common for our patients with your amount of prescription change for this to occur. Your vision needs time to adjust to the prescription and everything will seem normal and much better than the vision with current glasses within a week or two. We will call you in two weeks to check in with you, and if the glasses still don’t seem right, you can come back and we will see how we can adjust the prescription to make you comfortable.” Patients want to know above all that we care about them and that we will take care of them, ensuring their overall satisfaction.

Let Patients Know to Speak Up If Dissatisfied
It is important you and your staff let patients know you genuinely care about them and that they leave your office satisfied with the services and products they receive from you: “Tom, if there is anything about your glasses or the frames that you have questions or concerns about, don’t hesitate to call or drop by. You’re never just stuck with glasses or contacts we provide at our office for whatever reason. We will always work with you to find a solution.” Not only does this set a patient who may be unsure if their prescription is right at ease, it also builds trust between the patient and your practice.

Use the Optometric “Golden Rule”
A good exercise is to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. For instance, try sitting in your reception area for 10 minutes or so. Take a look around and take in how everything looks and feels. Would you be happy to sit in that environment for longer than a few minutes? You should do that for all the different places in your office that the patient would sit or be exposed to and take steps to make your patient’s experience impeccable. Then consider the different circumstances your patient might find herself in such as being left with boxes of contact lenses she doesn’t like or a pair of glasses that she can’t see well in. If you were the patient you undoubtedly would want the doctor to step up and provide a product you could be happy with–so do the same for your patients and reap the rewards of an exceedingly loyal patient base.

Related ROB Articles

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Show Patients the Added Value Your Practice Provides

Make the Call: Build a Relationship with Patients Built on Trust

Larry Golson, OD, is the owner of Envision Eye Care Optometry & Eyewear, an independent optometric practice in Asheville, NC. To contact him:

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