Why patients are choosing eyecare apps over you

May 23, 2016

It's raining “eyecare” apps. Just for a second, I’m going to embrace the hate because we can use it to help lead us to a better understanding of the situation and ultimately to a solution. In our technologically enhanced world there seems to be an app for everything-including for eye care.

It's raining “eyecare” apps. Just for a second, I'm going to embrace the hate because we can use it to help lead us to a better understanding of the situation and ultimately to a solution. In our technologically enhanced world there seems to be an app for everything-including for eye care. Let’s assume that people will embrace vision care apps and online programs and that they will perceive you-as their eye doctor-with significantly less value.

Why would anyone want to get a prescription for the same contact lenses with which they are doing fine? Or why would anyone think that an online refraction would be as good as your care?

Related: Will optometry's fear of disruptive technology backfire?

The answer is simple: Patients don't value your care or the experience they have in your office more than they value online programs and apps. In fact, they are telling you that they would rather do business with them than you. You can say, “Well, they just want the prescription, and they don't care about their eye health.” Yes-that is exactly what they are saying.

Why are you OK with this?

Why are you not seeking solutions and actively making changes in your approach and practice? Most likely what you have been doing for years will still continue to work, and you will continue to do well. However, unless we create a desire in people to value our services and support us with their business, then we will be in trouble. We know specialty care is a great way to go, but what about the majority of the patients who are in need of primary care?

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It starts with what we can control-the level of care we provide and the experience we give them. I'm tired of hearing, "Well, at this office, they don't dilate. Well, at this office, because we don't take medical insurance, we tell them to go to a local ophthalmologist for their dry eye care. Well, at this office, patients won't pay for an Optomap." Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum. Those are not reasons; those are excuses. Stop with the excuses and start with the solutions.

Next: It's you

 

It's you

Sometimes it's helpful to envision a worst-case scenario in order to find solutions to those scenarios that aren't as bad. Let's try it out.

Assume stand-alone refractions can easily and accurately be conducted online or via an app. Would people still seek routine comprehensive eye exams from an OD? Why would they? We can answer the why, but can the general public? Probably not.

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So, the issue becomes one of awareness and image. How do we make the visit something patients look forward to because they understand the importance of it and have a pleasant experience at your office? How did it get to the point where our essential services are seemingly only essential to us?

The answer is simple: It's you.

Staff asks patients, "Are you here today for an exam for glasses or contact lenses?" Put a stop to that immediately. It is detrimental to your reputation as a trusted eyecare expert because right from the start you are making it seem that glasses or contact lenses is all you do. Consider breaking it down and explaining the parts of the visit. Use terms like a "comprehensive eye exam," "refraction," and "contact lens exam."

In the exam room, prove you are not a "prescription robot" by educating the patient on what you’re doing and why it's helpful to him. The visit is often seen as an inconvenience, overpriced, and unnecessary when compared to the final outcome of getting the prescription. You are going to lose out if you continue to think that you can still be successful doing the same things you have always done.

Next: Get patients to choose you over an app

 

Get patients to choose you over an app

So, how do we get more people to choose us over an app? More people would want to go to their doctor if more doctors created patient experiences in which the value of the service was made apparent and the experience was enjoyable.

Today, people don't have an eye doctor; they have "a place where I got my last prescription." With that sentiment dominating our landscape, it's easy for other options to come in and do well. And there are more on the way. We have a great opportunity to create a desire for patients to return for scheduled care. The solutions are pretty easy, and there are many examples of success.

Typically, the exam focuses on determining the prescription so patients can purchase contact lenses and/or glasses. However, try making the experience a little more friendly, enjoyable, and special-distinctly different than what they've had before. Often an unexpected switch from what's been typical in previous experiences allows for your patients to have a satisfying experience that may create loyalty as well as the perceived value of your services. You can make this an opportunity to create loyal patients who want to come in for their scheduled (word intentionally used) eye care.

Consider the following ideas to enhance your patients' experience and to prove your worth by helping them.

1. After a friendly greeting, ask how you are helping the patient today. Address that first and foremost. Often it is related to refractive error.

2. Always let patients know that their visit is not just about a new prescription. Tell them that you are doing both a vision exam and an eye health exam-and don't forget to tell them why! People will learn better if you throw a "because" in there.

Consider: "First, I am going to check your vision because I know you want to see your best. That is the vision part of the exam. After that, I am going to perform the ocular health exam because we both want to prove your eyes are in as good as shape as we both think they are. This is the most important part because often you can be seeing great but still have something wrong with your eyes."

I bet if you think about it, you will find a way to improve your delivery or consistency.

3. Do the work. Don't just give commands and shine some lights. Prove your worth and help the patient understand the importance of the ocular health exam. For example, show a patient a retinal scan and educate him about his eye using his own eye. You show your value when you find something that probably has been missed, often because previous doctors didn't look at his peripheral retina in the past-or didn't tell him they did.

4. Look for opportunities to set things straight. For example, ask about the kids. How many times have you seen the parents but never their kids? Find out why. Kids need more than a vision test administered by a pediatrician or the school nurse. Or how about the spouse whom you learn just passed the Department of Motor Vehicles test and thinks he doesn't need to see you? The DMV test doesn't count. Let them know why. You prove your worth by showing you care about them and the people they care about.

Related: How ODs fit into the future of online refraction

5. The dentist gives you a toothbrush after your exam because he cares about your teeth. It makes you realize that your teeth are important and need to be taken care of. What do you think you should give your patients after an exam? I give my patients the sunglasses right off my head. This lets them know that they need to protect their vision. Show them you care and develop that desire for them to care enough to come see you as planned.

Next: It's up to you to create loyalty

 

It's up to you to create loyalty

Ask people why they went to the eye doctor and many would reply with something like, "I needed a new prescription because mine just expired," "It was time for my annual exam," or even better, "My eyes are important to me, and I like to prove my eyes are healthy every year."

From a historic perspective, one can see the decline of the perceived worth because now it is much more common for your patients to shop elsewhere-that is, options are up and loyalty is down. Maybe we should call it "perceived" loyalty.

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I've been in optometry since 2000 and before that, a decade as a patient. I've watched society change into one in which the trait of loyalty is often fleeting and in which change is not only accepted, but embraced. It is up to you to set the example and refine the standard. It becomes very easy to just see the patient, get the prescription, and move on to the next one. Sure the patient knows you did something with that light to check his eyes, but the opportunity to wow and educate him was lost. I propose that a new standard of your success should be judged by how good you are at creating a desire for patients to come back when you want to see them. So, how good are you?