Here’s A Technique To Provide Efficient Clinical Care And Increase Your Bottom Line
In a survey, the AOA asked consumers how long they’d wait for an eye doctor appointment after having lost or broken eyeglasses, 40% said they would wait one day before seeking an appointment from another eye doctor, 24% said one week, 5% said two weeks, 3% said one month, and 27% set no time limit. In the case of having lost or run out of contact lenses, 28% said they would wait one day before seeking an appointment from another eye doctor, 25% said one week, 7% said two weeks, 2% said one month, and 39% set no time limit. (Note: The statistics quoted in this excerpt are correct. The math doesn’t add up to 100% due to the rounding of numbers.)
The Most Profitable Patients
This means that more than 50% of our patients who need glasses or contact lenses — the most profitable patients — will seek these products from another eye care practitioner if they can’t get an appointment with us within a week or less. This is something that can have an enormous negative impact on our practice’s bottom line, considering half the revenue from the typical optometric practice comes from the optical dispensary.
To avoid this outcome, it’s essential we design an appointment schedule that enables our routine eye care patients (e.g., spectacle and contact lens wearers) to obtain appointments within a few days without alienating our other patients.
My schedule was filled with visits ranging from red eyes to glaucoma pressure checks, leaving very little room for those patients who needed new spectacles or contact lenses. This random approach to scheduling was threatening the financial growth of my practice. To solve this problem, I implemented template scheduling.
Through this type of scheduling, we (my staff and I) categorize and reserve specific time slots for each appointment type. The result: We’re able to hold enough slots for our routine eye care patients — ensuring we can see them within a few days rather than a few weeks or months — due to grouping our “short” visit patients (e.g., red eye, IOP checks, etc.) into specific schedule blocks. (See “Sample Template Schedule” below.)
Key To Sample Schedule:
VA = Visual Analysis (full exam), CLE = Contact Lens Exam, OV = Office Visit (i.e., short).
Note from the sample schedule that we’ve blocked “short” visits in four distinct groups throughout the day. Whereas we allow 15 minutes for full exams, we schedule two “short” visits per fifteen minutes. Thus, we see two patients between 8:00 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. and four between 1:15 p.m. and 1:45 p.m.
We give “short visit” patients the same appointment times in our “short” blocks because these visits rarely exceed a certain amount of time each, and our well-trained and well-delegated staff is able to efficiently manage and treat all patients scheduled within the given block of time. Translation: Our “short-visit” patients remain satisfied with the times we see them.
To determine how many “short” visits your practice should designate on your schedule, count the number of patients that required such visits through the past year. Double that number, and group these short visits in blocks as discussed. (By doubling the number of slots for short visits than you had for the prior year, you’re assured of having enough.) Spreading these slots throughout the day provides enough slots to avoid having to work patients into the schedule; you almost always have one available for the emergency patient within 24 hours. The remaining blocks of time are for your “long” visits, or routine eye care patients.
Break The Cycle
In most cases, we can modify the appointment schedule. The problem is most of us simply accept our existing schedule, seeing patients for any appointment type at regular intervals from first thing in the morning until closing because that’s the way we’ve always done it.