You love new patients, and who doesn’t? They’re essential to growing your practice, and they also offset the patients who leave your practice. But don’t forget your current patients. Especially the ones you haven’t seen in a while. If you don’t keep them coming back on schedule, your practice—and their eye health—will suffer. Why? Aside from the obvious problem of losing patients, there are some serious side effects.
Some of your patients have chronic conditions and are on a treatment plan, says Sharon Carter, a presenter at the 2017 Vision Expo West conference. If they don’t return for their scheduled visits, they may not be adhering to that plan. That means vision problems for them, and potentially, legal problems for you. “Don’t let these people fall through the cracks,” warns Carter. “They are our responsibility and we are liable for their eye health.” Plus, your MIPS quality score could take a dive. You may be eligible for a smaller bonus—or a larger penalty.
A pre-appointment strategy can help, but don’t be fooled. “There is more to pre-appointing than just telling the patient to return on a certain date a year from now,” Carter notes. A lot more. But by creating a pre-appointment and recall plan that works—and following it consistently—you can pull many of those patients back in. Luckily, we took care of the first part. Sticking to it? That’s up to you.
In the Exam Room
In the exam room, your physicians prep their patients to purchase eyewear in your optical. (And if they’re not, they should be). By the same tack, physicians need to set their patients up for their next appointment, whether that’s in one week, or one year. Physicians should tell the patient, in the exam room, when they should return.
At the Checkout Desk
When the patient checks out, the desk staff’s goal should be to schedule the next two appointments (for annual visits, one appointment is fine).
Just like you should never ask patients ‘Would you like to make a payment today?’ you also should never say ‘The doctor would like to see you back in one year. Would you like to make an appointment? “Now they are in control rather than you,” Carter points out. If you want patients to come in as scheduled, you must take steps that require the patient to make very little effort, aside from showing up. So schedule the appointment(s) and give them an appointment card. “If a patient does not leave your office with an appointment card they do not have an appointment!!” emphasizes Carter.
Overcome These Two Patient Recall Challenges
The patient says “I don’t know my schedule that far out, so I’ll call back closer to that date.”
Solution: This excuse is fairly easy to circumvent because the patient is actually telling you why they don’t want to set the appointment. Your instinct is probably to say something like ‘Oh, don’t worry. You can always reschedule.’ Again, you don’t want to leave it up to the patient. Instead, say ‘That’s ok. Let’s schedule the appointment anyway. We’ll send you a mail/text/email reminder a few weeks before so you can make sure the date and time still work.’
The patient says “No, thank you,” and doesn’t offer to call back.
Solution: This one is a bit more challenging because the patient doesn’t offer a reason. Patients are sometimes reluctant to come back for their annual exam because they think they’ll have to shell out for new eyeglasses every year. First of all, if you’re not getting your patients excited to buy new eyewear each year (or even more frequently) your staff could use some training. But more importantly, if a patient waits too long to come in and their prescription has changed, they may have a longer adjustment period when they do get new eyewear.
Try this: Don’t just call it a yearly visit. Try something like “a yearly continuing care visit.” It’s subtle, but it gets it in the patient’s mind that they should continue the care that they started—with you!
The Only Patient Recall Plan You’ll Ever Need
Carter shared her foolproof strategy and timeline for and effective pre-appointment and recall process at 2017’s Vision Expo West:
Four Weeks Out
If you use confirmation cards, ensure that patients receive them about a month in advance of their appointment. The card should include a statement that the patient must call your office to confirm in the next 48 hours. If you use automated text messages or call, do the same.
Three Weeks Out
Contact patients who have not yet confirmed. If you can’t reach them, give them one week to respond.
Two Weeks Out
Personally call each patient who has not yet responded. Make attempts at different times of the day, and do this at the beginning of the week, Carter recommends, so they have a week to reach you.
One Week Out
If you haven’t heard from the patient within one week of their appointment, “assume they are not coming,” says Carter. At this point, she recommends double booking the appointment.
The Day Before
Call or text reminders to all confirmed patients. For unconfirmed patients that you have not yet double booked, try one last time. For unconfirmed patients that you have double booked, contact them to reschedule.
One Month After
For no-shows and patients who cancel without rescheduling, send a recall notice stating that they are past due for their appointment, or call them.
If you can, use your EHR system to run a report that lists your current patients whom you haven’t seen back in, say, the last two or three years.
Try this: Make it a competition (with a juicy prize) among staff members for who can get the most patients back on the books. Alternatively, give each member a small bonus (think a few dollars) for every patient he or she reels back in.
You may also consider third-party vendors who work together with your staff to manage recalls. That way, you can minimize the time that staff spend on phone calls.
A good recall system will benefit your patients—and your bottom line. As Carter likes to say: “No appointment, no patient; no patient, no revenue; no revenue, no job!”