By Aaron Neufeld, OD
August 7, 2019
Patients who return to your office dissatisfied with their prescription, and negative online reviews, provide two key opportunities. These seemingly losing situations for practice owners can be turned around into victories that generate additional patients and profitability.
My one location, two-OD practice has grown steadily over the last few years. Today, we see 2,800-3,000 patients per year for annual comprehensive exams.
Chance to Show Empathy & Build a Stronger Doctor-Patient Bond
Prescription checks refer to patients coming back to your office because they feel that something is wrong with their glasses or contact lenses.
In my early days, when I was still working as an associate, prescription checks were regarded in a completely negative light. The doctor was seen as not being competent and the patient was seen as “high maintenance” and a time waster.
It is important to note that prescription checks (like bad reviews) are not something a practice wants. We actively work to keep our rates on prescription checks/bad reviews as low as possible.
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The growth opportunity in prescription checks lies in your ability to show empathy, and develop a deeper level of trust with a patient. While not ideal, prescription checks are an organic and serendipitous way of building goodwill with a patient.
When something doesn’t work for a patient, you have an opportunity to show that you will go above and beyond to make sure something does work for a patient. This is your chance to right a wrong (even if the mistake is not necessarily on your part). If this is done right, you develop a lifelong relationship with the patient.
The key is to see it from the patient’s perspective. Often we get too caught up in seeing everything from the “all-knowing doctor’s perspective,” which does not tell the whole story.
Our staff is trained to walk the patient through a few questions to make sure the problem is not an issue that can be handled by a frame adjustment. Then they schedule the patient for the earliest possible prescription-check appointment.
The content of the conversation is important, however the tone is even more important. Voices should reflect empathy and softness, rather than being stern or condescending. You want the patient to know and feel that you are on their side. That all starts with early staff communication.
We do not have a set script, but we have guidelines on how to approach prescription checks. The staff remains supportive throughout the entire process. Even if the patient is belligerent or illogical, the staff remains sympathetic and seeks to talk through the problem so that we can get the patient to stay in our practice.
For example: “I’m sorry that these glasses are not working for you Mr. Roberts. I can completely understand your frustration. I’ve had glasses that didn’t work for me before, and being dizzy with them can be quite frustrating. Let’s work together to find what prescription and fit works best for both your vision and comfort. We will make this right and once again we are so sorry that you had to go through this.”
Show Your Commitment to Quality Service
Bad reviews are once again something we never want to have. We strive constantly to have nothing but positivity. Our high reviews on multiple review web sites have allowed our practice to grow immensely.
However, bad reviews happen regardless of how good your practice is, and they present a different growth opportunity than prescription checks. While prescription checks give you the opportunity to grow internally by enhancing an individual one-on-one relationship, bad reviews allow you to respond to a reviewer in a way that demonstrates your focus on quality service and goodwill to a mass of potential patients.
Bad-Review Response Action Plan
I monitor all reviews. I get an e-mail notification whenever we receive a review, and I personally respond to the reviews. The doctor, especially if they are the owner of the practice, should always address the review. Having the “highest power” in the practice respond to the review shows that you genuinely care about the patient and their concerns.
The key for a bad-review response to work in your favor is to respond with compassion and concern, regardless of how ridiculous or berating the review may appear to you. Make sure these six components are present in a response:
1) Thank the reviewer by name for their feedback.
2) Express concern/remorse that the feedback does not reflect your practice/mission.
3) Take ownership! Show a sincere desire to fix the problem.
4) In a HIPAA-secure, one-on-one environment, talk out the problem with the patient explicitly and broken down into simple parts.
5) Offer a solution to the problem, often at your cost.
6) Once again, thank the reviewer and reiterate that you will address the problem and make
the situation better.
Putting these components into an example would look like this:
“Thank you so much for your feedback, Mr. X. We are sorry you feel this way, especially since this does not reflect ABC Optometry, nor the mission and philosophy we operate by. Our goal is to provide exemplary eyecare, and we want to make this right for you.
“If we understand correctly, it appears that your glasses came later than expected and were not fitting correctly when you took them home. We will be happy to adjust your glasses and check your prescription at no charge. As for the tardiness of your glasses, we are at the mercy of your insurance lab, however we will make a special note in your chart to request rush orders for any future glasses you may order.
“Once again, we are immensely sorry for what you went through, Mr. X, and we will make this situation better. We are constantly working to improve, and each patient’s feedback is vital to that. We hope that we can work together to deliver on our mission and provide satisfaction.”
Why does this work? First, it shows prospective patients that you genuinely care and want to solve a problem for a patient. By putting yourself out there and asking how you can improve and make something better, a prospective patient is able to better relate to you and can establish trust in your method of operating. Finally it demonstrates that you place a tremendous value in your work – so much so that you are willing to spend time on a public forum to give your work due diligence.
Being argumentative, or worse yet, dismissive, shows arrogance and an inability to empathize.
I’ve seen too many practitioners take this road and get burned. It may feel justified to argue and “put someone in their place,” but even if you are 100 percent correct, to everyone else reading the response, you will appear confrontational and unpleasant.
The Rewards of Taking the Time to Turn It Around
I had a patient whom I was fitting with specialty lenses for migraines. I had been seeing her for a few follow-up visits to get the tint just right. One morning I was surprised at a one-star review she left us, which claimed that one of our front-desk employees had treated her rudely and hung up on her when she tried to call.
Truth be told, I had just hired a new front-desk employee, and was oblivious to the complete 180-degree shift her attitude took the second I closed my exam-room door and she was alone at the front.
I responded quickly. I thanked the patient for her feedback and apologized for the unpleasant service she received, which was not indicative of our office or mission. I then told her I would address the problem as soon as possible, and that she would be directly patched to my personal exam-room phone if she called in the future. I also offered to comp any additional lenses and appointments that were not already covered or paid for.
The response became a practice builder. Our patient added an edit to her review, publicly sharing that I had gone the extra mile to address her concern (which also included letting a toxic staff member go) and serve her needs. She also said the incident established a next-level trust with me that she did not have with other practitioners.
Over the next two weeks, a couple new patients mentioned the review and their admiration at the poise and genuine nature of our office’s response. The patient eventually deleted the whole review because she did not want it to affect our office negatively going forward.
Bottom Line: The Patient Is Entitled to a Positive Experience
The key to turning a prescription check, or bad review, into a positive lies in your mission and philosophy. You must drop any entitlement you feel. The patient does not know your craft and does not have your education. The patient is a consumer, and the consumer is the one who decides how the market swings, despite how educated you are or how well built your practice is.
Something I see nearly every week that absolutely infuriates me are postings from ODs on online forums that cite a bad review or bad patient experience, vent extensively about how the patient is wrong and then ask for ways to put the patient in their place or get revenge on the patient.
When a patient goes on the offensive against you, show them love, empathy and hospitality. If you decide to fight fire with fire, I can assure you that someone else in town will be more than happy to use water.
Always approach each situation with empathy, kindness and compassion. The results will speak for themselves.