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How to use surveys to improve service at your practice


Surveying potential new patients, existing patients, or employees can help ODs deliver better service by knowing what people want and giving it to them, says Bethany Fishbein, OD, consultant at The Power Practice practice management group and private practice owner in Somerset, NJ.

Las Vegas-Surveying potential new patients, existing patients, or employees can help ODs deliver better service by knowing what people want and giving it to them, says Bethany Fishbein, OD, consultant at The Power Practice practice management group and private practice owner in Somerset, NJ.

Surveying potential patients

If an OD is looking to open a new office, surveys can help to pick the right location.

Visit the locations under consideration, and ask people in the area:

• Do you currently have an eye doctor?

• If yes, are you happy with that doctor?

• Do you have vision insurance?

• What would you change about your current doctors?

If you ask, people will tell you, says Dr. Fishbein.

Dr. Fishbein and her husband opened their practice cold and surveyed people before choosing the location. She used the information people shared to market their new practice.

Related: Top 10 practice management mistakes

“When we opened, I highlighted what people said to us,” she says. “For example, if people complained about long wait times with their current doctors, we advertised that we’ll see patients within 10 minutes of arrival or their exam was on us. It attracted people in our area to our practice, and it helped us to build a practice."

While conducting the survey, considering offering a drawing as a participation incentive. The drawing not only increases responses, but collecting email addresses to notify the winner helps a practice to build a mailing list.

Exhibiting at community fairs is another way to obtain information from people in the area about what they want while also building a list. Offer a giveaway to encourage attendees to complete the survey.

Says Dr. Fishbein: “Instead of being passive, you are being active by gathering information in a list you can sort by glasses wearers, contact lens wearers, etc. You will have a specific targeted email list you can use to market your practice. “

Surveying non-patients

Asking for information from people who are not patients provides valuable insight.

Dr. Fishbein suggests asking people what they want, then advertise telling people that you offer exactly what they want.

Her practice was busy on nights and weekends, but weekdays were not. Looking at the patient base showed that the practice was not seeing many senior citizens.


She obtained a mailing list to target this group in her area. She uses infousa.com to purchase mailing lists to conduct surveys.

She sorted the list by two area ZIP codes, age 65 or higher, and household income of $75,000 or higher.

Other criteria to consider when using mailing lists for surveys include:

• Geography

• Age

• Home ownership

• Income

• Gender

• Marital status

• Children

• Language spoken

Related: Managing an office and optical move

Dr. Fishbein sent a paper survey to her targeted list, asking:

Which is most important to you when choosing a doctor?

• Convenient location

• Accessible to people with limited mobility

• Modern equipment

• Wide selection of glasses

• Friendly and helpful staff

• Participates in my insurance plan

• Doctor is well-educated, knowledgeable

• Doctor spends enough time with me

• Doctor is recommended by friends or family

• Doctor explains things clearly

• Doctor will refer to an appropriate specialist when needed

• Doctor is available in an emergency

Survey results showed that the top things seniors in Dr. Fishbein’s area wanted were: 

• Doctor is well-educated, knowledgeable

• Doctor explains things clearly

• Doctor spends enough time with me

• Doctor will refer to an appropriate specialist when needed

“We wrote a letter directed to that mailing list including that information,” she says. “All of a sudden, senior patients are coming in during the day. It’s almost too easy.”

Dr. Fishbein again examined the practice’s patient base and learned that after seniors, their next most under-represented group was college students.

“Rutgers University is 3 miles from our office, and we weren’t seeing any college students,” she says.

Dr. Fishbein has a friend who is a professor there and asked Dr. Fishbein to lecture to her classes. She gave a survey to the students while she was there.

“We learned that the majority of students were from New Jersey and went to their eye doctor still at home,” she says. “They weren’t looking for an eye doctor at all. We dropped the idea of increasing our college student patient base and stopped marketing to them. Meanwhile, another OD in town thought it was a great opportunity and opened a satellite office on campus. She closed it not long after because students weren’t coming.”

Related: The false security of a full schedule

Surveying existing patients

According to Dr. Fishbein, surveying patients can help with any decision in the practice from small to large.

For example, Dr. Fishbein has learned that sometimes when her staff offers input on a decision, such as what new frame line to add or what magazines to place in the reception area, it’s what the staff wants, not what patients want.

Conducting a survey about it tells you what patients want.

“Whatever they picked, that’s what we got,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Dr. Fishbein recently moved the practice to a new location.


“We surveyed our patients about the location,” she says. “Would they continue to see us? What did they think about that location? We learned that they would continue to come. About the location, they commented about the traffic and they hoped there would be more parking. I didn’t even know parking was a problem at our current location. We opted for a different location due to the traffic comments, and we made sure patients knew there was ample parking.”

Patients also commented on the survey that they wanted a device charging station at the new location, so Dr. Fishbein made sure that was included in the office plans.

Other decisions which can be helped by surveying patients:

• Choosing a new frame line

• Interest in new products

• Acceptance of new technology

• Learning problems that need solutions

“Patients will tell you what they want if you only ask them,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Like many practices, Dr. Fishbein’s practice has seen its capture rate (the number of patients buying glasses) decrease. Nothing had changed at the practice to explain the drop. The staff was certain it was because the practice didn’t carry certain frame brands.

She learned that for those who didn’t buy glasses from the practice, price was the most important factor. Style was most important for those who did buy.

“Patients are telling us they aren’t shopping for brand,” Dr. Fishbein says.

She also asked open-ended questions about what would make patients more likely to buy glasses from the practice. Patients answered with comments about budget frames and lower prices.

Related: The benefits of cleaning out your practice

“Rather than bringing in brands that were priced comparable to those we had, we brought in lower-priced frame lines,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Post-experience surveys

Many businesses know surveys work. That’s why all of us are seeing more and more surveys sent to us from hotels, airlines, banks, and more.

“I just got a survey from the garage where I got my car’s oil changed,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Post-experience surveys really want to know one thing: How likely is it that you would recommend the business to a friend our colleague?

This is called the net promoter score, says Gary Gerber, OD, founder of The Power Practice.

Ask this question with a scale of 1 to 10.

Those who answer 9 or 10 are practice promoters.

Those who answer 6, 7, or 8 are passive about the practice.

Those who answer 1 through 5 are detractors of the practice.

The net promoter score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.

“The Power Practice’s best client practices have a net promoter score of 90 or above,” Dr. Gerber says. “They really work at it.”


Familiar companies use net promoter scores as well:

• Amazon: 69

• Google: 38

• Tesla: 97

Find net promoter scores for other companies at npsbenchmarks.com.

Tips for surveying patients after their visit include:

• Be careful in choosing who receives the survey depending on what information is desired.

• Use a Likert scale with an even number to avoid having a middle choice.

• Place yes/no questions early in the survey so people aren’t tired when they get to the question and simply say “yes.” Doing so is called the “yes bias.”

• About 30 responses allows for commonalities in answers to be seen.

• Ask 7s and 8s why they gave that score. “That’s the only question you need to ask,” Dr. Gerber says. “You know what you need to fix, and you know what works.”

• Don’t ask patients to take the survey while still in the office; patients don’t want to be watched while completing the survey.

• Surveys can be conducted electronically or via hard copy. “Test both to see which gives you the best response,” Dr. Gerber says. “You might end up doing both. Or, ask your patients how they would like you to communicate with them.”

Related: 3 steps to success in clinical practice

• Don’t offer rewards for sending the survey back because it creates obvious bias. “When a survey is for a marketing purpose, that’s different,” Dr. Fishbein says. “You can bias the answers all you want. But when you want true feedback on the practice, you need to keep the bias out.”

Mystery shoppers

Little companies got to be big companies by getting feedback from their customers,” Dr. Fishbein says. “Using mystery shoppers is one way to do that.”

When choosing mystery shoppers, be sure to conduct a pre-screening survey. Include:

• Demographic information

• Describe a time when you encountered really excellent service

• Describe a time when you encountered very poor service.

When Dr. Fishbein employed mystery shoppers, how the candidates answered the last two questions was important.

“We didn’t care about the answers and what they specifically said; we cared about how much they wrote,” she says. “Our selection was based on length and completeness of answers. Saying simply ‘high prices’ wasn’t helpful and didn’t provide the detail we needed to know about our practice.”

Dr. Fishbein asked her mystery shoppers to evaluate:

• Initial phone call

• Welcome email

• First impression

• Pre-testing

• Doctor interaction

• Contact lens fitting/follow-up

• Eyewear shopping service

• Overall impressions

Mystery shopper feedback allows practices to make changes based on solid information.

For example, several mystery shopper reports showed that one staffer in Dr. Fishbein’s practice failed to introduce herself to patients when she greeted them in reception and took them back to pre-testing.

“The employee claimed she introduced herself to everyone,” Dr. Fishbein says. “But when 6 out of 10 mystery shoppers had the same comment, we knew it had to be addressed. The mystery shopper reports took the emotion out of the conversation because we had hard data.”

Currently, Dr. Fishbein is working with mystery shoppers about millennial patients because she discovered that those patients are walking with their glasses prescriptions and she wants to know why.


Surveying employees

Dr. Fishbein conducted an employee survey just last week because she and her partner are considering moving payroll from biweekly to bimonthly.

“A few times a year, a month has three payrolls instead of two,” she says. “Our cash flow was taking a hit in the months we had a third payroll. We thought staff would hate the idea of changing payroll because they like getting paid that third time.”

So, Dr. Fishbein asked her employees what they thought before implementing the change.

The majority of employees said they liked the idea of two checks per month because they would be paid on the same dates each month and planning their bill paying would be easier.

“We can now make the switch knowing that most staff are OK with the change,” Dr. Fishbein says.

Asking staff what they like or don’t like their jobs is helpful as well.

Dr. Gerber and Dr. Fishbein conduct staff surveys when working with practice management clients.

“We are able to learn a lot about a practice before we even get there by asking staff what they think,” she says.

Suggested survey questions:

• What are three things that inspire you about working in the office?

• What makes this office a great place to work?

• What changes could be made in the office to make your job better and allow you to be more inspired every day?

• In what specific ways do you think a consultant can help your office the most?

• If you were not going to be working in the same office, how likely is it that you would recommend this employer to a qualified friend or family member looking for a job?

• What is the reason you gave the score above?

Related: 6 steps to open a practice

Getting the most from survey results

“If you conduct a survey, you have to be willing to address the results,” Dr. Fishbein says. “Otherwise, why do it?”

Remember to:

• Offer only choices that you are able or willing to deliver.

• Accept that the survey results are always correct, even when you don’t like them.

• Make small changes.

• Measure the results of the change by repeating the survey. 

Get more content here from Vision Expo West in Las Vegas, NV

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