How to Prevent Unmet Patient Expectations

We all have expectations; and when our expectations are not met, we can tend to become unhappy.  At Envision Eyecare, we believe strongly in meeting our patients expectations and pride ourselves in taking certain precautions to prevent unmet patient expectations.  Something as simple as checking benefits before a patient arrives puts our patients mind at ease, allowing them to know their comprehensive visit is covered. Letting patients know when there is going to be a wait, is another way to alleviate confusion and set the expectation that they will be in the office a little bit longer than expected.  The following article was written by Dr. Golson on how to prevent unmet patient expectations and create an environment that is welcoming and organized.

Understanding the triggers of patient anger and dissatisfaction is the first step to preventing these irritants from occurring in the first place.

Does this sound familiar?  The patient who comes in to pick up her glasses only to find they are not ready?  How about the patient who comes in on time for an appointment that ends up waiting in the reception area for over 30 minutes? There are many reasons a patient could become upset with your office, so it is important to be proactive and avoid disappointment before it surfaces. My team and I intentionally imagine possible scenarios where patients can become dissatisfied and plan carefully to prevent the annoyances from ever happening. The Golden Rule at our office: “Anticipate needs.  Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.”  Here are a few of the common causes of patient dissatisfaction we have identified and steps we take to prevent patient dis-ease.

Unmet Expectations

Patient dissatisfaction usually involves unmet assumptions that were not delivered on. Even if you never discuss it with patients, most have preconceived ideas about things like how long they should be expected to wait for the doctor after checking in for their appointment, how long they should have to wait for their eyeglasses to be ready for pickup, how much they should have to pay for their eyewear and how helpful your staff should be for them to take advantage of vision plan and insurance benefits.  The best way we dispel unrealistic expectations, is to inform the patient of what to expect before they even ask.

Apologize and Let Patients Know the Reason for the Wait

When all pistons are firing in our office, it rarely happens that a patient has to wait an inordinate amount of time to be taken back for their appointment.  Our goal is to never let the patient wait more than 10-15 minutes.  However, we all know the unforeseen happens at times, and if it looks like we will keep patients waiting in the reception area for longer than expected, my Patient Experience Coordinator apologizes and explains the situation to patients. We then ask if we can do anything to make the patient more comfortable (a cup of coffee or tea, a magazine or an IPAD) and give the patient the choice to use the time to show the patient around the optical dispensary. We find that this one step diffuses most patients that otherwise would begin to grow impatient or think we’d forgotten about them.

Check Insurance Availability Ahead of Arrival at Office

To prepare patients for how much they will be expected to pay, we check on insurance eligibility prior to the patient’s appointment.  We give them a call ahead of their arrival in the office if it looks like their insurance will not cover their exam and/or eyewear and contact lens purchase. That way they can decide whether they want to try to work out the issue with their insurance provider or pay-out-of-pocket for the visit. Either way, the good part of checking on insurance eligibility before the patient ever gets to the office is these patient decisions won’t have to be made after the patient has already taken time away from their schedule and traveled to your office. Having that lead time to plan appropriately helps offset the anger that would occur if the patient had gone through the exam and selected eyewear and then found out–surprise!–that their exam and products would not be covered. We let all patients know (as the insurance companies kindly inform us every time we check on a patient’s benefits) that coverage does not guarantee payment by their insurance.  Although it creates more work for us on the front end, it prevents a good amount of unhappy patients that would have otherwise been surprised with a bill for a service that wasn’t covered.

Warn Patients of Fees for Testing

We discuss fees with patients before services are rendered for all non-covered services.  Let’s say you see from a patient’s exam that they are at risk of developing glaucoma but insurance won’t pay for further testing. As per standard of care, you need to take retinal images but there will be an $89 fee for doing so that may not be covered by the patient’s insurance. Do you tell them before taking the pictures? Yes! The patient deserves the choice to opt-in or opt-out and since we are in a service industry where there are many options for eye care, it makes sense to be as up front and graceful as possible.  A member of my team or the doctor will say, “Rob, I see from your medical history that you are at high-risk of developing glaucoma. This is a serious condition that can potentially result in loss of sight and we need to take images of the inside of your eyes.  These images will give me a sense of the baseline health of your eyes so I can better detect signs of glaucoma and follow your eye health over time. I want to let you know that the fee for these images is $89 and since we are advocates for your best eye health, it’s very important for us to have this information.  How does that sound to you?”

Set an Appointment for Dispensing Eyeglasses

Rather than just telling patients the glasses should be ready in 10 business days, I prefer to have our team set an appointment with patients to come back to the office on a particular date and time. We always under-promise and over-deliver in the dates we give patients to come back for the glasses. For instance, if we are fairly certain the glasses will be ready in five days, we will set the appointment for them to come back in seven or eight days. We also let the patient know that if the glasses will take longer than expected, we will call them ahead of time so we can reset this appointment. Doing this avoids the patient having to call to see what’s taking so long with their glasses, or, worse yet, showing up at the point when you told them their glasses would be ready only to find they are still not done.

Control Expectations for New Glasses

Since many first-time prescription spectacle wearers will experience some distortion or oddness in their vision when they put on their new glasses, it is important to warn patients of this: “Susan, I want to let you know that the glasses may make you feel odd initially–your vision may seem a little strange at first. Don’t worry!  This isn’t permanent and it’s common for our patients with your amount of prescription change for this to occur.  Your vision needs time to adjust to the prescription and everything will seem normal and much better than the vision with current glasses within a week or two.  We will call you in two weeks to check in with you, and if the glasses still don’t seem right, you can come back and we will see how we can adjust the prescription to make you comfortable.”  Patients want to know above all that we care about them and that we will take care of them, ensuring their overall satisfaction.

Let Patients Know to Speak Up If Dissatisfied

It is important you and your staff let patients know you genuinely care about them and that they leave your office satisfied with the services and products they receive from you: “Tom, if there is anything about your glasses or the frames that you have questions or concerns about, don’t hesitate to call or drop by. You’re never just stuck with glasses or contacts we provide at our office for whatever reason. We will always work with you to find a solution.”  Not only does this set a patient that may be unsure if their prescription is right at ease, it also builds trust between the patient and your practice.

Use the Optometric “Golden Rule”

A good exercise is to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. For instance, try sitting in your reception area for 10 minutes or so. Take a look around and take in how everything looks and feels. Would you be happy to sit in that environment for longer than a few minutes? You should do that for all the different places in your office that the patient would sit or be exposed to and take steps to make your patient’s experience impeccable. Then consider the different circumstances your patient might find herself in such as being left with boxes of contact lenses she doesn’t like or a pair of glasses that she can’t see well in. If you were the patient you undoubtedly would want the doctor to step up and provide a product you could be happy with–so do the same for your patients and reap the rewards of an exceedingly loyal patient base.

Related ROB Articles

http://www.reviewob.com/doctor-patient-communication-starters-keys-to-stellar-service.aspx

http://www.reviewob.com/show-patients-the-added-value-your-practice-provides-.aspx

http://www.reviewob.com/make-the-call-build-a-relationship-with-patients-built-on-trust.aspx

Larry Golson, OD, is the owner of Envision Eye Care Optometry & Eyewear, an independent optometric practice in Asheville, NC. To contact him: drg@myenvisioneyecare.com.