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In her latest blog, Donna Suter, gives advice on adding an extra profit boost to your clinic.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Advanstar.
A patient with poorly fabricated eyewear is the strongest predictor of a future surgical complaint.
I have heard this statement more than once at professional meetings. It speaks to the truth that patients do not segregate their experiences in your office. Patients, also called consumers in this blog, do not know how to evaluate eye surgeries or treatment plans, but can quickly evaluate the fit and vision from spectacle eyewear.
Balance patient satisfaction in an optical that accepts vision plans with a higher level of patient satisfaction found in plan upgrades and retail-for-fee-items. Many patients will gladly pay for items not covered by vision plan providers if these items improve the quality of their lives. Practices report success with low vision, sports vision, designer frames, and premium spectacle lens, among others.
To guarantee practice success, effectively marketing these specialized services is essential. If you want someone to beat a path to your door, you have to tell him or her where the door is located.
The marketing of an optical that features specialty items begins with the physicians, the clinic, and the front-desk employees. The individual’s facial characteristics, prescription, and vocation and avocations are the primary factors used to determine who is a candidate for a niche specialty.
These issues might first come up during pre-testing. The technician should know enough about optical products to assure the patient that he or she has come to the right place. Even better? A brochure about the niche specialty allows the consumer to use wait-time and think-time.
If trending frames are your niche, then ensure that everyone that comes in contact with the patient is wearing one. “I want one just like Sally’s” is music to your eyewear consultant’s ears.
Ask your lead optician or vendor to hold training sessions for your entire staff, a real “show and tell,” explaining the optical’s niche specialty and how it benefits patients. Then, talk about the different patient prescriptions these devices help. You want your staff to be an extension of your in-office expert, knowledgeable about your optical’s niche specialty.
Next: How you market is key
Patients naturally have expectations about the eyewear they are ordering. It is advisable to demonstrate options such as tints, no-glare lens, and aspheric curvature at the time or ordering and again at dispensing. For example, the patient’s new aspheric lenses may be a lot flatter optically speaking, but-especially in a small eye-size frame-the difference may not be easily perceived unless the difference is demonstrated with a lens clock at the dispensing table.
Because consumers typically pay retail for new lens technology, it is best to have an idea of what the patient expects, and for the eyewear consultant to determine if he or she will be able to comfortably tolerate the option offered. For example, switching to a high-index, low-specific gravity material for a mid-range Rx in a small eye-size may not save enough weight to be significant. On the other hand, if your patient is highly sensitive, with a pencil-thin nose and paper-thin skin, even fractions of an ounce in weight reduction can be greatly appreciated.
Newsletters and blogs keep your optical top-of-the-mind for consumers. This marketing tactic can also generate new patients. Combine information about product features with announcements about awards or recognition you or your employees might have received.
This is also a great forum to highlight speaking engagements and showcase patient endorsements. Be sure to include Q&A material, the most widely read section in newsletters. Use shorter, informational messages on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other sites.
Notices can be placed in the optical or at the bottom of the receipt asking users to rate your products. Employees making satisfaction calls can also ask for postings.
While you don’t want to make the mistake of not asking for any feedback at all, there is a happy medium between silence and bombarding patients with ratings requests.
Direct mail or social media boosts can be some of the most effective means of growing an optical. Mailing lists/social media hits can be generated from your patient database or (when using snail mail) purchased through direct mail sites. Look for companies that target a wide range of patient groups.
Because use of the USPS is down, a well-designed and well-written newsletter will receive more attention than ever before.
Next: Payment issues solved
A sports vision specialty might mean mailing a letter to parents of little league players or to high school athletes, or members of recreational softball leagues. This letter, or newsletter, should point out how the specialty devices available in your practice provide benefits both on and off the playing field.
Volunteer to give talks on your optical’s specialty before school and community groups. If you have a low-vision technician, develop contacts with assisted living housing directors, senior centers, adult day care facilities, and community centers.
Every one of these contacts is a source of future business. Instruct your in-house specialist to guard against coming across as self-serving. He or she should introduce the practice as a medical practice that has trained personnel and information of interest that can help consumers.
Since most premium spectacle lenses-specialty vison services and products are not covered by insurance-deal with the pricing and payment issue right up front. It does a patient little good if you perform services and prescribe an expensive vision product or device if the patient cannot afford to pay for it.
Sample word patterns:
(In the optical) Mrs. Smith, I will be showing you two things today. What you are eligible for under your vision plan and what is available from our specialty line.
(When booking a specialty examination) Mrs. Smith, I have checked with your insurance/vision plan provider and low vision devices are not covered. What this means is that there will be additional fees for the examination. (Brief pause) Payment of that fee of $$$ is expected the day of service. Mrs. Smith, I can make that appointment for you now. Is a morning or afternoon appointment more convenient?
(After booking the specialty examination) Mrs. Smith, after your specialized examination and an in-depth conversation about your vision issues, our specialist will be making a recommendation about next steps and product options. Please know you will not be charged any more money without your consent. We are here to help and want you to know that our recommendations are made on best of care practices and you are free to go anywhere to purchase items or for vision training/therapy.
Specializing can breathe new life into an optical. But there is a lot more to it than simply adding an extra line to your service brochure.
Next: No absolute guidelines
There are no absolute guidelines as to when to use some of today’s new technology options except in the more extreme situations. Train your staff. Be proactive and watch your practice grow.
Donna Suter (423-400-3626; email@example.com) is an internationally recognized authority on the unique practice management issues that face dispensing eyecare practitioners.
Suter Consulting Group: www.donnasuterconsulting.com