Analyze the state of your practice regularly

Some good things come out of a recession, including a need to be creative and open to change.

"The companies that become more innovative and those that reinvent themselves and concentrate on their strengths come out ahead. It's important to look at where we are now and see how we can come out of this," said Dr. Miller, a partner at EyeCare Professionals of Powell, Powell, OH.

He challenged optometrists to get out of their comfort zones, analyze their practices for patient satisfaction and practice success, and implement improvements.

Addressing problem areas that surface from these and other questions can result in greater patient satisfaction and office optimization, he said.

All-important customer experience

Patient satisfaction is pivotal to practice success because it results in patient retention. Dr. Miller described customer, or patient, satisfaction as how the patient perceives the experience of an eye exam minus what their expectations were coming in.

"I go in expecting that patients had good experiences in the past, and I want to try [to] 'wow' them with what we can do and the service we provide to make it an even better experience," he said.

Part of a good patient-doctor relationship is encouraging communication. To promote the positive, Dr. Miller asks his patients who mention good experiences with staff members to jot down their thoughts on "star-performer" note cards. Dr. Miller then displays the testimonials in cardholders throughout the office, as well as brings up the testimonials at office meetings and staff reviews.

Patients have an opportunity to voice any negative experiences or problems in electronic surveys sent out after their office visits.

"If we don't ask, we don't know," he said.

Patients fill out online patient satisfaction surveys and e-mail them to the practice. The responses come right to the partners' phones, as well as to staff. Dr. Miller and his staff recapture survey results monthly to see if there are areas that might need addressing. However, he or a staff member will respond immediately to a negative comment.

Dr. Miller personally calls unhappy patients. His opticians have stacks of gift cards to local establishments (from $10 to $20) that they can use to say "sorry for the problem" and "thank you for remaining a loyal customer."

He described "moments of truth" throughout the patient encounter where technology can enhance the customer experience, from ease of scheduling, to patient care and education. One example: Dr. Miller sets aside 4 to 5 minutes at the end of each exam to summarize key points about the patient's eye health, exam findings, and follow-up care. He might use a short educational video to explain a treatment or eye condition. His practice has implemented electronic health records and e-prescribing-moves, he said, that improve practice productivity.

An important measurement in the optometrist's practice is the capture rate for prescription dispensing.

Many optometrists think that displaying more frames will improve capture rate, but this is not usually the case, according to Dr. Miller. Rather, optometrists should think strategically to capture patients walking in and out of the practice. This means making sure that patients moving through the waiting area must go through the dispensary when they come in and when they leave. Enhance inventory with the latest frames, but rely more on merchandising (including displays) to catch customers' eyes. Too many frames can be confusing and look cluttered, he said. Separate women's, men's, and children's frames for shopping ease.

Pricing also is an issue, he said. Patients often perceive that glasses they buy at an optometrist's office would be more expensive than those at another retail outlet. With a combination of patient education from the exam chair, followed with an optician marketing glasses in all price ranges, optometrists can overcome the perception and gain customers, according to Dr. Miller.

Be willing to change

In light of the huge impending overhaul of the U.S. health care system, willingness to change is vital for practice success, according to Dr. Miller.

"It is important not to get stuck in the status quo and [to] re-evaluate our systems on a regular basis," he said.

In order to change successfully and adapt to an ever-evolving marketplace, practices need to have a shared vision and a culture that encourages creativity, ideas, and change, he said. By drafting a mission statement and being fully committed to its message, practices establish that shared vision and focus.

"You should be creating action steps for change in your office and taking those action steps along the way. Your communication style should not be from the top down because you need buy-in by [the] whole staff. Have clearly defined short- and long-term goals and measure progress along the way," Dr. Miller said.