Your Annual Checkup Post-Covid: Meeting and Exceeding Patient Expectations
By Practice Growth June 10, 2020
Whether your eyecare practice only saw patients for urgent care during this pandemic, or remained closed altogether, now comes a very crucial step: reopening for routine exams. It's understandable that quite a few patients would hesitate to schedule their annual in the near future. But what can be done to make your patients feel safe and comfortable enough to return for a visit? Let's imagine ourselves as the patients, and step by step outline what it would take to bring them back to your practice.
Let's book that annual eye exam
As more and more places reopen, getting an eye exam might not be the first item on everyone's to-do list. That's why it's important to start opening up your schedule weeks in advance. Now is the perfect time to put that recall reminder software to great use! Have a protocol in place; it would be a good idea to have it posted both in your office and on the practice website. That way, if patients are making an appointment online, you can direct them to that page with a link. Showing patients that you have a structured plan in place lets them know that you care about their well-being.
And now about the actual schedule: unless your practice is a boutique optical that typically saw 1-2 patients per hour prior to the pandemic, your schedule flow would need to undergo some major adaptations. If before it might have been part of a luxury experience, now it would be an expected standard. And let's admit, nobody enjoyed walking into a crowded waiting area even in the good old days. While booking patients an average of 45 minutes to an hour apart might seem a bit of a stretch for some busy practices, it's important to remember to prioritize the patient experience now more so than ever.
The Doctor will see you now
So now let's imagine we got over the first hurdle, and our first routine exam patients have made an appointment. What do they want to see when they come in? Even before the pandemic, efficient practices would often be praised for facilitating quick, efficient, in-and-out visits. Our task is to alleviate their anxiety and at the same time not alienate them with all the literal and figurative distancing.
Once inside, the patients should expect to be greeted with a temperature check, with all the staff wearing PPE. (It would also be a good idea to add several more hand sanitizer stations, as well as have some extra face masks on hand in case a patient comes with someone not wearing a mask). There should be little to no time between their arrival and the moment they are taken in for their checkup. Frame try-ons would have to wait until after the exam, but more on that later. Also, keep in mind that CDC and AOA guidelines have inevitably added more paperwork, and it would be best to take care of that prior to the actual appointment; filling out several pages in-person is not only time-consuming but could be quite aggravating. (We all had those patients that would complain about doing paperwork even just to update their demographics!)
Next would come the pretesting and the exam itself. While it was customary in most opticals to clean the equipment in front of the patient, now it becomes a standard, and not just for the germaphobes. Yes, do take the time to wipe everything down with disinfectant in front of the patients, so they are not left wondering who last touched that chinrest! It's also worth mentioning that in addition to standard PPE like face shields, likely to be worn by the doctor and at least also the ophthalmic technician, there are other less conspicuous layers of protection you can add, such as slit lamp shields for the exam room, as well disposable chin rest covers. While not a costly investment for the practice, these adjustments are sure to be appreciated by the patients.
Revamping the eyewear selection process
This is the step where you can get most creative and showcase your skills as an optician. Though many newer practices are often designed in a way to allow patients to freely access showcases, it's no longer practical, at least for the time being. Turn this into a positive customer-tailored experience! Bring half a dozen or so frames to the seated patient to try on. After all, not everyone enjoys rummaging through dozens of frames. (And how many times in the past have your patients tried on fifty frames only to settle on one of the first of your recommendations?) This way it will also be easy to keep these frames isolated so they can be wiped down before returning to the showcases. Now is also a good time to consider some of the more tech-trendy options, like virtual frame try-ons. Even if your practice is not selling inventory online, there are solutions available to catalogue your inventory so that patients can try on frames on their mobile devices - possibly even at home, pre-appointment. Implementing such technologies is sure to make your practice stand out, engage your patients, and serve as incentive for them to come in for an appointment.
While some of these strategies might be a temporary response, others could potentially help us discover new and better ways to connect with patients. It will be a learning curve for sure, but let’s make it a positive one. A successful practice is all about being able to adapt and evolve, all the while listening to, and exceeding your patients’ expectations.