Not long ago, Sandra Fortenberry, OD, FAAO, received a phone call from her aunt, who happens to also be a patient of hers in her Texas State Optical-affiliated practice in San Antonio. “She called to say how much she appreciated my text wishing her a happy birthday. She was so flattered,” Dr. Fortenberry says. Yet while her aunt is very special in her eyes, all of Dr. Fortenberry’s patients receive that level of attention on their birthdays. In this case, the text that prompted the phone call was generated automatically by Solutionreach, the patient communication system she uses.
Even before she opened the doors to her private practice, Dr. Fortenberry had made decisions that she would employ a communication strategy that fits today’s patients. “Most patients want to have their reminders sent by text or email; some still like the phone call. With text or email, people find it convenient to send back a confirmation,” she says. “And if they can’t make it, we know right away whether we can fill in that appointment time with another patient,” she says.
Dr. Fortenberry had an advantage in making her choice. She is also Assistant Dean for Professional Advancement at Rosenberg School of Optometry, University of the Incarnate Word, and the school uses Solutionreach for its patient communications. So she knew the benefits of the service and chose it for her own practice.
By making patient communication so easy, it can also be made so much more effective, says Dr. Fortenberry. “There’s the fun stuff, like sending a happy birthday text to patients,” she says. “There are the practical advantages for practice management, like confirming appointments quickly. But there’s also the opportunity to reinforce patient education,” she says. “Patients are provided with so much information in the course of the exam, especially if they have a medical condition that I’m explaining. It’s very helpful if they have a family member there taking notes, but many don’t. So we’re able to use the system to send patients reminders about their medication, follow-up appointments or even news about the condition,” she says. Every time she is able to reach patients outside of the exam room is an opportunity to build on the relationship between the patient and her practice.
That’s a key message that Dr. Fortenberry, the educator, wants to impart to her students, as well. “I tell my students that if you’re not exhausted from speaking after a day in the clinic, then you’re not educating your patients enough,” she says. She is also reminding them to use the technologies, like texting, to complement their communication. “Using Solutionreach also helps with time management because we can set up reminders automatically, or send a message to all patients with macular degeneration or diabetes, for example.”