By Ian G. Whipple, OD
Jan. 15, 2020
Optometry is facing challenges from competitors like online retailers and large optical chains, and also, a change in the consumer mindset. People want their healthcare, like the other products and services they buy, to be friction-free in the delivery, and personalized to suit their needs.
Giving today’s consumers–our patients–what they expect sometimes requires us to take disruptive actions.
What is Disruption?
I define disruptions as any process, equipment, company, or other entity, that creates a change in the patient/doctor relationship and/or in the way we deliver eyecare.
I often wonder why so many of these disruptions seem to be driven by external forces acting on our profession (i.e. online retailers, telehealth, vertically integrated companies, etc.) when we as optometrists could be disrupting our own practices. I’m not suggesting that every disruptive move is a positive one, but the disruptions that WE bring to the table are more likely going to move the patient/doctor relationship in the right direction.
Our “Disruptive” CL Store
We started offering a disruptive contact-lens online store in our office through the company CLX. This service helps remind patients who didn’t purchase a year supply from us at the time of their visit when it’s time to purchase more contact lenses. It sends them a link to our store and the lenses are automatically ordered and shipped to their house. Recently we’ve been receiving at least one order per week. These patients are purchasing from us rather than from an online or big-box retailer. This service has made it more convenient for the patient and has increased our practice profitability.
A New, Disruptive Way of Presenting Contact-Lens Fees
The idea for one simple disruption that we are currently implementing in our office came from our billing team. They indicated that we get few patient complaints, but that the most common concerns that patients voice relate to our contact-lens evaluation fees.
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We found that when our doctors and staff members presented contact-lens evaluations we only spoke about the fees and we didn’t do a great job of explaining what exactly the patient would receive for the fee. To be more transparent, we created a two-minute video that explains exactly what a contact-lens evaluation entails. We are having patients watch the video after the tech has done the workup, but before the doctor sees them for their exam.
This video walks a patient through the process, explains why it is important that a contact-lens evaluation is performed every year, and explains all of the benefits they will receive in our office because of the contact-lens evaluation.
These benefits include free shipping, free replacements if their prescription changes, that they’re buying local, and that we’ll throw in a $50 in-office voucher toward the purchase of sunglasses. We have only tested this video on a handful of patients as of press time, but the results so far are encouraging.
Disruption Sometimes Just Means Sharpening Your Focus on the Patient
Other disruptions may be much simpler such as a move we made in our office to remove every phone from the optical floor and reception area. This allows us to focus exclusively on the patient who is currently in the office. I already had a full-time receptionist, so all we needed to do was make sure that her phones were behind a closed door. This move simply required a little planning.
Maybe How You Train Employees Needs to Be Disrupted
One struggle my office has had over the years is training optical staff. Opticians play such a vital roll in our practice, and I expect them to be experts. I recently disrupted our previous training protocols. Rather than give a newly hired optician a large manual that helps explain everything they need to know about the job, I give them just a few pages per day.
These smaller segments are less overwhelming and have increased new hires’ confidence levels. One recent hire without previous optical experience is confidently presenting glasses options and pricing at the same level as our more experienced opticians within her third week on the job. This disruption in our previous training procedures has already paid off.
A Night Out Can Inspire Practice Disruption
Inspiration can come from outside of the optometry world. I love going to nice restaurants where a host warmly greets the customer and quickly introduces them to their server.
We implemented this in our reception area. Now that our office doesn’t have phones on the floor, we turned our welcome table into a patient coordinator station. One staff member sits near the edge of this table, and as patients walk in to the office the host/patient coordinator walks around to the front of the table to greet the patient as they approach. Our host welcomes the patient to our office and introduces them to a technician or optician who will further assist them.
Nobody likes walking up to a busy medical office front desk where the staff members are on the phone and seem to have little time to even say hello. By mimicking a best practice from the restaurant industry we’ve eliminated awkwardness and have created a more memorable first impression of our office.
And Don’t Forget to Be Inspired By Your OD Colleagues
We need to stop viewing other doctors as competitors. We’re all in this together. I feel comfortable sharing ideas with nearly anybody and love speaking openly with other optometrists who are on the front lines. I encourage dialogue and hope that as optometrists, we will be the true disruptors of our profession.