By Brianna Rhue, OD, FAAO
Jan. 4, 2023
Patients have new expectations for how they communicate with businesses, including eyecare practices. For a while now, it has no longer been enough to have a receptionist answering the phone and checking e-mail once a day.
Patients want to be able to communicate with you at the times that are convenient for them, and want to be able to get information fast about who you are and where you are located.
Here are the technologies I have adopted in my own practice, and one I am planning to add to my practice over the next year, to give patients a true 21st century experience.
Identify Where Technology Can Smooth & Expedite Your Patients’ Journey
There are little things you can do at each step of the patient journey, so the patient is not idling with wasted down time. First, patients should be able to make an appointment without ever calling your office, and should be able to do it whenever they like via live appointment booking. Having patients e-mail you to request an appointment and then wait for an e-mail response is not sufficient for many patients. Not only are our inboxes full, but this creates a lot of unnecessary frustration with back and forth between the staff and the patient. Also, due to spam phone calls, patients are not picking up calls from unknown numbers.
Modernize Check-Out & Payment
A major consumer shift to digital is quickly reshaping the needs and expectations of patients. The demand for providers to offer streamlined processes and modern payment solutions is no longer just nice to have, but is an essential component of today’s healthcare experience.
The payment experience patients want*:
- 52% of respondents want financing options
- 63% said they are interested in mobile payments, jumping to 82% among millennials
- 85% said they want to make all healthcare payments in one place
CareCredit adds significant value for the patient by giving them time to pay with promotional financing; but it also provides a contactless, all-in-one mobile solution to help them privately check to see if they prequalify for credit. They can then apply, and if approved, pay for care immediately and continue to consolidate/manage their ongoing out-of-pocket responsibilities. It’s fast, simple and secure – and an easy way for practices to help increase patient satisfaction and profitability. Learn more.
*InstaMed, Trends in Healthcare Payments Tenth Annual Report: 2019, published 2020
Once the appointment is booked via live chat, or by the patient themselves, the patient should get a link texted to them to fill out all of the necessary paperwork, health and lifestyle history. The patient should also receive a link at this time to an online retail site connected specifically to your office, where they can browse, and have your staff set aside, eyewear they want to try on in-person.
You also should be able to text patients what their out-of-pocket charges will be, before eyewear is added in. That reduces surprises and potential conflict on the day of the visit. The patient should receive text messages before the appointment to remind them of when they are due in your office.
With the paperwork all filled out ahead of time, there should be little-to-no wait time once they arrive in your office. To take it a step further, and expedite the process even more, you can use virtual check-in. This eliminates the need for a front desk staff member and ensures that everyone in the office, including the doctor(s), will know that the patient has arrived and is waiting.
When the patient is in your exam chair, you should be educating and prescribing from the chair, and smoothly handing off the patient to the optical. This is the time when your prescriptions and recommendations for the patient are reinforced by repeating it to the optician. You should not have to leave the exam room to summon the optician. You should have a way of alerting the optician via their computer, tablet or phone (or all three), or through a paging system, that they are needed in the exam room.
Thanks to the patient’s pre-visit selection of eyewear, the optician should have frames and sunwear waiting for the patient to try on as soon as they get to the optical. Don’t think you have sunglasses displayed in your office… Every pair of glasses in your optical can be made into a sunglass.
When it’s time to check-out, the patient should not have to wait in line. The optician should have a mobile device that allows the patient to pay using electronic payment like Apple Pay, Venmo, PayPal, or another form(s) of e-payment, right then and there. For payments that are necessary after the patient leaves the office, you should be able to text them a payment link.
In addition, you should have options for patient financing, such as via the CareCredit credit card, to give patients choices for not only how, but when, they pay. It’s yet another point of convenience and the removal of friction to give patients the option to pay for their services over time, rather than all at once.
After they leave, the patient should receive a text asking about their level of satisfaction with their appointment. No matter what the patient thought, they should receive a prompt to leave you a Google Review. This is a checks and balances to know where you are doing well and where your office can improve.
How We Put This Vision Into Action In Our Practice
I used a professional website design company that has ample experience with eyecare to ensure our site is easy to use and primed for search engine optimization, meaning it has information on our homepage that will make it likely that our site will be among the first pages that appear for a person searching for an eye doctor in our area.
I use automated recall with text messaging through Weave. Our online forms integrate directly into our EHR. In addition, we invested in both live appointment scheduling and live chat (Simplifeye), so patients can both make an appointment and interact with us any time they like. They know immediately if the appointment day and time they want is available and get quick confirmation that the appointment has been booked.
We use Optify to give patients access to an online store with our optical offerings. This technology prompts patients to pick out frames they like ahead of their visit, which are placed in a shopping cart for them, for opticians to pull ahead of their arrival in the office. We use Dr. Contact Lens, a company I co-founded, to enable patients to order and reorder contact lenses whenever they like. Among other functions, the system texts patients’ reminders of when it’s time to reorder their lenses, so they never unexpectedly run out, and provides digital copies of prescriptions to patients so we are not wasting trees printing Rxs.
To maximize patient education, and, therefore, the likelihood they will comply with your treatment plans, we use a technology called Unified Imaging, which enables us to keep photos from all of our instrumentation on one platform. That way, I can go to one place to pull all the photos I want to e-mail through our patient portal, rather than going into the platforms for each separate instrument. I can quickly access the images that reiterate to the patient why I prescribed specific products and services.
Soon to Come in Our Office: Voice Search Optimization for Patients to Find Us
A search engine optimized site alone will soon be obsolete for being enough for patients to quickly find you. Consumers are increasingly relying on voice search through Siri, Alexa, and other systems, to find what they need. “Alexa, where is a great eye doctor close to me?” a prospective patient may be asking this technology. I am currently exploring the best way to optimize our practice to be found through voice search. I also am looking at ways to enable patients to reorder contact lenses through voice assistance, rather than having to use text or e-mail.
You may be surprised at the patients who most love this technology. We think the younger generation is leading this charge, but it is the opposite. As a lot of people in this generation, including my father, never learned to type, they are often great lovers of voice search and voice-assisted systems. Optimizing your practice to be found quickly through voice search may make your practice more accessible to all types of patients looking for medical eyecare. Some of us may think medical technology is how we advance our practices, but, just as we like new toys, so do our staff and patients. By making little shifts in the way you do business you will be enhancing access to care while growing your business.