Can cataract/refractive surgeons upgrade their customer service?

Lynda Charters

Pleasanton, CA-Certain elements are key to building a successful lenticular refractive practice, according to Shareef Mahdavi, BA. While technology will continue to evolve, success with implants will likewise require physicians to evolve their approaches to the business side of refractive surgery, namely, upgrading their customer service.

Pleasanton, CA-Certain elements are key to building a successful lenticular refractive practice, according to Shareef Mahdavi, BA. While technology will continue to evolve, success with implants will likewise require physicians to evolve their approaches to the business side of refractive surgery, namely, upgrading their customer service.

"There is a perfect storm brewing now in refractive surgery where the technology has advanced with the IOLs that are approved, the regulatory environment has allowed for presbyopic correction, and the economic incentives are in place for the physician," said Mahdavi, president of SM2 Consulting, Pleasanton, CA. "Looking at the population changes from 2002 to 2010, consumers are clearly ready, as shown by the demographics, with an increase of 20 million individuals who range in age from 40 to 64 years. Those older than 65 years are also increasing in numbers rapidly."

Notably, the 78 million baby boomers are experiencing or will soon experience two key vision milestones-presbyopia and cataract development.

Reaching out to patients

To understand how refractive surgeons will find patients who are experiencing presbyopia and cataract formation, Mahdavi and colleagues analyzed patients who underwent LASIK, based on their age at the time the procedure was performed.

"A surgeon who has been performing an average of 35 LASIK procedures a month, or 400 annually, for the last 10 years, can expect to see a pool of emerging presbyopic patients numbering about 1,500 over the next 10 years," he said. "These are patients who have already gone through the learning curve around refractive surgery and are easily identifiable to the practice, reducing the need to spend money on external advertising."

That's the good news.

Now, as he pointed out, the bad news is that office staffs not equipped to handle this patient population can get in the way of attracting and holding on to these customers.

"For example, the inability to answer the phone is something that is plaguing those who are asking patients-who are truly customers-to pay $5,000 to $10,000 out-of-pocket for refractive surgery," Mahdavi emphasized. "Once in the office, poor handling and scheduling results in patients waiting for an examination for 30 to 60 minutes. This is unacceptable to most consumers, who have high expectations when they decide to have refractive surgery."

Other problems are not making available funds to all patients who need it and lack of follow-up after the procedure.

"Sending a thank-you note is a simple act of gratitude that helps make sure the word-of-mouth referral stream continues into the practice," he pointed out. "Many practices find themselves 'too busy' to do this, which puts additional pressure on having to find new patients."

These practice-killing problems also extend into many other forums outside of ophthalmology. Mahdavi noted that a national survey reported that only 38% of patients consider front office staff members to be courteous.

Rating LASIK practices

He recounted a study that he and his colleagues conducted of 50 premium LASIK practices in the country in which they "mystery shopped" the practices pretending to be potential LASIK patients. Mahdavi used a grading scale and a survey tool to score the practices.

"The average score among the top 50 LASIK practices was 42 out of a possible 100, with higher scores indicating better performance," he said. "A good score was defined as 57, so even in the higher-volume, well-established LASIK practices, these complication rates exist."

When he looked at the 50 practices individually, some had very high scores, with the best practice scoring 95; however, many were well below the average score of 42.