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The Struggle of Decades: Patient Retention

No matter how successful a practice is, it seems that all optometrists experience the same issue when it comes to routine annual eye exams: patients rarely schedule them. Maybe they feel as though their eye health was just fine last year or they might have received glasses or contacts and believe they are good for the next few years. Either way, patients are just not scheduling and keeping their annual eye exams, and eye doctors feel the strain of constant patient retention.

An Old School Issue

An article in Review of Optometry spoke about this decades-long struggle, and we do mean decades. The author, Jack Persico, Editor-in-Chief, cited an article written in 1930 where an optometrist expressed the same concerns. The author from the ‘30s admitted that he was jealous of the dental office across the hall, saying “He has his patients trained to appear before him every six months to have their teeth examined. They come as if they were glad to come.”

This begs the question: why are more people not “trained to appear” at their eye doctor’s office at least once a year? Americans site blindness as “one of the worse things that could happen to you” in a survey conducted earlier this year, yet optometrists have been fighting to keep patients coming back on a regular basis. While no one knows for sure why it is common for people to skip their visits with eye doctors, SolutionReach came up with a few suggestions to help your practice keep its patients, while gaining new ones.

First Thing’s First

We need to figure out how many patients you have and have lost. This involves doing a bit of math (we know, we hate it, too). First, make sure your database is up to date. It is a tedious task, but it must be done in order to understand the true standing of your practice. After your database cleanse, find the total number of patients you have in your system. Then, subtract the ones you’ve only seen once or twice and then never again. This number is the most accurate representation of your total patient base.

Next, calculate your attrition rate. Do this by adding the number of new or short-term patients and dividing that number by your total patient base. Knowing this number can help you identify if there is truly a problem with patient retention in your practice. It is important to note:

  • 17% is the average attrition rate for most practices.
  • Anywhere from 10-30% is considered a manageable
  • Anything above 40% is worrisome and should be evaluated.

Steps to SuccessHappy Optometrist Patient Relationship

Now that you know these important numbers, how do you keep your attrition rate low and your patient count high? It has been recorded that upwards of 70% of patients leave offices because they feel like the practice is indifferent about their business and their health. There are a few simple steps your practice can take to make every patient feel like he/she is the only one you see.

1. Communication

Newsletters, informational blogs and appointment reminders are excellent ways of keeping communications open. Social media also works well, providing patients with contact information, addresses, a convenient place for appointments or referrals, relevant articles and other helpful information.

2. Marketing

As most of you know, marketing is an important aspect of any business, but what slips most minds is the importance of marketing to your current customers. Showing your current patients what they are worth to you with things like rewards is a great way to repay loyalty.

3. Feedback

Giving your patients the option to “customize” your practice via feedback is another way to show them they matter. It is also an excellent way to promote communication, but you must take the time to review their suggestions. Remember, they need to feel important.

4. In-Office Experience

Your patients’ experiences in your office can make or break their loyalty. Try to streamline your check-in process and brighten up your first impression: keep the waiting room clean and engaging and invest in good front-desk personnel. Wait times can be detrimental to the experience, as well, but patient reminders sent the day before appointments can help keep everything moving smoothly.

5. Patient Interaction

It is imperative to treat your patients as people, not just prescriptions and procedures. Be cordial; address new patients as Mr., Mrs. and Miss. The longer they are your customer, the more informal you can be. Be sure to make eye contact when you speak with them. 90% of a single hospital’s complaints were about poor eye contact, saying it felt like the doctors did not care. Show them you care by listening and consciously engaging with them in every aspect of their visit.

Patience with Your Patients

In your messaging, it is also important to convey that routine care helps to catch eye health concerns early and keeps people feeling and seeing better. While these suggestions are certainly good, please remember that patient loyalty takes time. Stay consistent in your messaging and behavior, and track each change you make for progress. Reevaluate in a year to see what worked for your practice, what did not and what you may want to implement next.

As recorded back in the ‘30s to present day, patient retention is a common and ongoing struggle for optometrists. With these solutions implemented, you can be confident that you are doing everything you can to give your patients the best experience. A positive experience both in-practice and with every communication thereafter can encourage patients to stick with you and, hopefully, keep their annual eye exams.