Selling elective refractive procedures

September 15, 2006

Editor's Note: When it comes to high-end elective refractive surgery procedures, what happens outside the surgery suite can be just as important as what happens inside. Physicians and practice staff must be attuned to patients' fears and meet their expectations before surgery, rather than focus solely on postoperative visual outcomes as a measure of quality, said Shareef Mahdavi, president, SM2 Consulting, Pleasanton, CA, who regularly works with ophthalmology practices and companies on marketing issues.

Editor's Note: When it comes to high-end elective refractive surgery procedures, what happens outside the surgery suite can be just as important as what happens inside. Physicians and practice staff must be attuned to patients' fears and meet their expectations before surgery, rather than focus solely on postoperative visual outcomes as a measure of quality, said Shareef Mahdavi, president, SM2 Consulting, Pleasanton, CA, who regularly works with ophthalmology practices and companies on marketing issues.

In addition, the cost of the procedure should be presented in the proper context rather then becoming the focal point of discussion with prospective patients, said Mahdavi in this first of a two-part series.

Whether a patient is interested in LASIK or in cataract surgery that may include an optional IOL to correct presbyopia, the approach should be the same.

"One of them is that before you start talking about solutions as a provider, you need to understand the problem that they're going through," Mahdavi said. "The problem is more than just 'I can't see well.' You need to get to their specific and unique concerns."

Getting there means having a conversation with each patient about his or her lifestyle, work habits, leisure activities, computer use, reading-anything that helps you understand them.

"That's really important, and there isn't enough of that being done," Mahdavi said. "People tend to shortcut that step and want to go right into a selling mode, saying why the technology is really good or why that particular surgeon is really good. Typically, that's done sooner than it should be.

"Patients want to feel special, and they want to feel listened to," Mahdavi added. "The counselors who do that well are going to have a lot less resistance when it comes to price and people saying yes.

"In the typical medical environment it's all about the doctor," he continued. "But in this kind of premium refractive practice, it's got to be all about the customer. The whole event needs to be around the person paying, not the person doing the surgery. That can be tough for some surgeons to swallow, but my response is to get over it. People have choices, and they'll chose to go to a different surgeon whose staff will be more responsive and offer a higher level of service."

He also suggested that doctors who want to perform more elective refractive procedures shouldn't bother with ads or billboards, but would be wiser to instead spend resources internally on better paid, better trained staff, who are friendlier to patients, and on a more comfortable, more attractive physical environment.

The price is right

Ophthalmologists could also emulate the strategies applied by many of their highly successful colleagues in cosmetic surgery, Mahdavi said.

While the discussion with prospective patients for LASIK or premium cataract surgery begins with a thorough exploration of their needs and expectations, it eventually moves to the price. However, it's a mistake to assume that any initial reluctance to commit to the procedure is strictly a financial issue, Mahdavi said. He explained that if patients will pay thousands of dollars for furniture, big-screen TVs, or upscale vacations, they can afford elective surgery. So cost is unlikely to be the true sticking point. It's more likely that the price was brought up too soon.

"When it comes down to price, the reason it does is because the provider and staff have not put enough value in what they do, in what the technology does, and how the patient will benefit," he said. "If there's no value demonstrated, then of course some patients will say it's too expensive.

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