For Eye Care Patients, Simpler is Better

Ever heard the phrase, K.I.S.S.? It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid, but it’s not meant to be derogatory. The K.I.S.S. principle was reportedly coined in the 1960s by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at Lockheed Skunk Works®, a division of engineers tasked with creating groundbreaking aircraft like the famous SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. And while K.I.S.S. is actually a design principle, you can apply it to almost anything—even your eye care practice.

Essentially, the K.I.S.S. principle means that you should avoid unnecessary complexity. Most things work best if they are kept simple instead of complicated. The simpler the “thing” is—product, service, or system—the more likely it is to be used. And eye care has a problem with keeping it simple.

Why Complexity Is a Problem in Eye Care

Optical is in crisis because it’s an insulated, closed system, says optician Barry Santini, president of Long Island Opticians in Seaford, New York, and presenter at Vision Expo West 2017. It’s been made unnecessarily complicated for patients, and eye care providers don’t always make it easy for patients to see the value in their goods and services. So let’s return briefly to Kelly Johnson:

He explained his K.I.S.S. principle by telling his engineers that any aircraft they created must be able to be repaired in a field—these aircraft were designed for war—by someone with basic mechanic’s skills and a few simple tools. If their machines weren’t simple and easy to understand, they’d become obsolete and worthless. In other words, users wouldn’t see the value. Likewise, if you are making your products and services unnecessarily complicated, patients won’t see your value. The value of eye care is sometimes very apparent, but more often, to patients it’s invisible, Santini says. “It’s not like a Mercedes where every time you open the door and you smell the leather and look at the backup camera,” he jokes.

Finding, visiting, and spending money in your practice shouldn’t be a hurdle for patients. If you can make all of these things simpler and easier, your practice will be better off, and your patients will be better off. “Simple and easy are very important words in every business,” says Jay Binkowitz, who led several sessions at Vision Expo. “And it’s not what’s simple and easy for you, it’s what’s simple and easy for your patients.”

The First Impression

This might seem obvious, but it’s also really important:  Before your patients visit your practice, they must be able to find you. And that means online, and in person. Digital marketing is beyond the scope of this article, so we’ll (ahem) keep it simple. Many providers think that the most important pages on their practice’s website are the doctor’s pages. They think potential patients want to know how qualified the doctors are. But that’s not true, says Randall V. Wong, MD, who conducted a live critique of ophthalmology practice’s websites at AAO 2017. The three most important pages on your website are the Home page, the About Us page, and the Contact page. If you want people to know where to find you and how to reach you, ensure that your full contact information is highly visible on all of these pages.

And about that Home page: “You have about eight seconds to engage a potential patient who has landed on your website,” according to Trudi Charest and Kevin Wilhelm, who presented at Vision Expo West. Design your homepage for maximum engagement, they advise, by including these six 6 essential elements:

  • “Hero” image: this is the first visual a visitor will see on your site and expresses the site’s most important content. Make sure it’s a good one.
  • Promotional campaign: advertise whatever promotion you’re running at the time to draw people in.
  • Why choose us: this is your mission or value statement. If you don’t have one, get one.
  • Geographical information: your contact information and map with driving directions
  • Services: be specific and don’t just say “all of your eye care needs.”
  • Brands you carry: “Highlighting brands is a crucial marketing strategy [because] consumers type in brand keywords all the time,” report Charest and Wilhelm.

Before the Appointment

One of the main issues that Dave Ziegler, OD, another Vision Expo presenter, was seeing at his eye care practices was this: the eye exams were taking too long, and by the time the patient got to the dispensary, they didn’t really want to spend time shopping. To remedy this, Ziegler revamped the entire sequence of the eye exam appointment to get everything done in 30 minutes.

A significant step in that revamp was to shift the time-consuming task of data collection from taking place at the appointment, to taking place before the appointment—before the patient even walked into the office. This tactic made things easier for the patient because it shortened the appointment length. Patients found it easier to fit the appointment into their schedule knowing that they didn’t have to give up hours. Ziegler also found that patients didn’t feel as rushed to leave at the end of the appointment, and they were more likely to spend time in the optical.

To accomplish this shift, Ziegler hired two additional staff members to act as intake specialists. When appointments are scheduled, all data—including medications, history, and chief complaint—is collected over the phone. The only thing they wait for is the copy of the patient’s insurance card. The intake staff then populates the patient record. When the patient walks in for the appointment, they are ready to go.

If the patient doesn’t have time to give all the information when they make the appointment, intake staff schedules a time to call him or her back. There are still some times that they have to get the data the old-fashioned way (by filling out forms when the patient arrives), but they’re able to get the majority in advance, Ziegler reports. With this system, Ziegler is able to see five patients an hour.

Eyes Open

Most EHR systems will have an issue with populating the patient record at a time other than the actual appointment, because it results in an open encounter. To get around that, the intake specialists add the information in the “notes” area of the patient record. Then when the tech arrives for the day, they open the notes and pull the information into the actual data fields.

A Head Start

 Collecting patient information isn’t the only thing that can be done prior to the appointment. At Ziegler’s practice, patients can even choose their frames before the exam—maybe not the exact frames they’ll end up buying, but several pairs they’re interested in. Here’s how it works:

  • Prior to the appointment, patients are directed to a “find your perfect frame” section on the practice’s website.
  • The patient makes his or her selections, saving them to a “shopping cart.”
  • When a patient adds a frame to the cart, the systems sends optical staff an email alert.
  • Staff pulls those frames so they’re ready when the patient comes in. Of course, the patient is still free to browse in person.

This process is unique for patients. It differentiates Ziegler’s practice from others, and it saves some time in the optical. But there’s an additional benefit: Once the staff gets a feel for the patient’s selections, they can expand on that with their own suggestions. When bringing out the frame tray with the pre-pulled selections, they often like to say “and we put a pair of sunglasses in there we think you might like as well.” Hello, multiple pairs!

Eyes Open

You want to give the patient information (like face shape tips or the season’s frame trends) but not too much information. Ziegler’s practice doesn’t post frames’ brand or style online. This prevents patients from collecting the information and trying to find the frame somewhere else. And what if multiple people like the same frame and it sells out? This hasn’t happened yet, Ziegler says, but they are a few deep in color with many of their frames, so they’d at least have the same style for the patient to look at.

Don’t yet have a website with this type of capability? You can still apply this principle in other ways. If you have a patient that you’re familiar with, pull some frames you think he or she will like. In addition to saving time and adding convenience, the patient will feel special because you’ve taken the time to consider their preferences and prepare for the appointment.

In our next post, we’ll uncover ways to “keep it simple” for patients during the appointment, in the optical, and after the sale. Stay tuned. 

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