By Brooke Messer, OD, FAAO, FSLS
A strong staff is a key component of a well-run and profitable optometric practice of any size. In my experience, a knowledgeable staff that believes in your mission is essential to a small and specialized practice.
My small practice focuses on full spectrum care for patients desiring better vision with contact lenses.
Our mission is to provide the absolute best vision and comfort in contact lenses, along with the customer service to match. We do this by using the most up-to-date technology, materials and diagnostic equipment available, along with a little tenacity to just not give up until we get there. Many of our patients have irregular corneas, but others are patients that simply want the very best soft lenses available. We have two ODs and five full-time employees. Many of our patients are referred for custom GP or soft lenses, but others find us online because they are searching for a contact lens option that meets the visual demands that their current lenses are not.
While we love caring for patients with irregular corneas, we see a big opportunity in the patient group that feels their current soft lenses are lacking in their performance. By offering a customized approach to patient care, we have been able to provide patients with a level of acuity and lens comfort that improves their functionality and quality of life.
It doesn’t take long for a new staff member to understand that we expect them to provide the same individualized care and understanding that’s delivered in the exam room. Our team differentiates themselves and our office from the moment they pick up the phone to schedule a new exam. It takes about 5-7 minutes to schedule an eye examination with a new patient that found us online, and 10-15 minutes for a referred patient, because both the patient and my staff member will ask a lot of questions to make sure they get scheduled for the right type of appointment, and ensuring the patient has a good understanding of what they can expect at the office.
We train them to gather specific information, not just the typical demographics. They’ll often ask if there are any notes they can make to help prepare the doctor for their exam, and how their current lenses are working for them. I will often read notes like, “eyes have been too dry to wear contacts for the last couple years,” or “distance vision is too blurry with multifocal contact lenses.” This gives the doctors an edge in the exam room, so we can immediately focus on and address patient desires.
If my staff member believes a certain patient may need an extended appointment slot, they have the power to change the schedule. I don’t see this as a negative thing. Spending more time with the patient on the first exam often saves many follow-up visits and return phone calls. An extra 15 minutes of chair time is well worth it, in my opinion. These patients remain loyal to the practice and are often willing to invest in top contact lens technology, and re-invest in our practice year after year.
Our systems require both detailed notes by the doctor and staff, and efficient communication methods so the staff can quickly respond to patient questions. We use a HIPAA compliant inter-office messaging system in every exam room and work station so staff can quickly connect with the doctor. Many of our online reviews include a reference to a staff member who helped a patient navigate their insurance or quickly resolve a question. I am so proud of this team’s dedication to our patients.
Take individualized measurements
During the comprehensive eye exam, we begin the individualized experience by taking measurements beyond a typical contact lens examination. My technician will measure keratometry, corneal diameter and anterior chamber depth on nearly all patients. We also measure wavefront aberrometry or topography, if needed, to further troubleshoot a lens fitting. We also evaluate tear layer quality, refractive error and investigate other factors, like lifestyle and wearing habits.
My technician is often able to recognize some findings, like potential dry eye, presbyopia, cataract, or irregular astigmatism and begin the education about applicable contact lens options in the exam lane or pretesting room. She also discusses appropriate lens wearing schedules and will start talking about the benefits of daily disposable lenses if the patient is likely to be a good candidate. I like to follow-up with them discussing the differences in lens materials, and how important it is to take care of our eyes. Patients often comment on how they feel this is a highly comprehensive and educational eye exam.
Upgrading the experience
Custom lenses, of course, are designed by the patient’s unique measurements. Those same unique measurements can help the doctor select a lens that will best fit the patient. We are lucky as optometrists to have great soft lenses that fit most patients pretty well, but we can still provide an excellent service by prescribing a lens that is going to provide the most ideal fit and comfort. I like to analyze the patient’s corneal diameter and anterior chamber depth to help me decide which soft lens to try first. For example, the lower modulus and design of the MyDay® lens help can bring comfort to a patient who previously struggled with lens awareness.
Minnesotans spend a lot of time outdoors, both winter and summer. It’s important to me as their eye doctor to provide a lens that is going to help protect and keep their eyes comfortable in all elements, and that’s where the discussion about the benefits of UV blocking* and silicone hydrogel material comes in. I like knowing the clariti® 1 day has both the protection from the transmission of UV radiation* and silicone hydrogel material, plus the convenience of the sphere, toric and multifocal lens options, so I can dispense lenses to most patients on the day of their exam.
Make lens supply simple
One key to encouraging good compliance is to simplify lens delivery to the patient. We accomplish this by taking advantage of the direct ‘ship-to-patient’ opportunities from our manufacturer. Our contact lens distributor provides direct shipping to the patient’s home, and there is free shipping for annual and even some six-month lens supplies. Simplifying the lens ordering and shipping makes it easier for the patient to remain compliant, and not to be tempted to use their daily disposable lenses more than once.
Another key tool for our contact lens sales discussion to the patient: a calculator that helps my team quickly compare their previous annual supply cost to the cost of their new prescription of daily disposable lenses.
In the case of an upgrade, this allows us to present the cost to the patient in a transparent way, without spending time number crunching. The calculator can include rebates as well as vision care plan benefits.
My staff member can quickly share how affordable their new lenses can be. With a lens like the clariti® 1 day silicone hydrogel lens, many times the cost difference is negligible. In a small practice like ours, we have to differentiate to thrive. My staff has helped our practice grow into a local source for contact lens technology and information, for both referring doctors and patients.