Should you schedule dispensing appointments?

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Many eye care businesses are reluctant to setup dispensing appointments for their patients.  Naturally, eye care business owners worry about creating a situation where they are not offering the utmost flexibility to patients.  In this Practice Management Tip of the Month, we will discuss the benefits of dispensing appointments and why you might want to think about doing this in your practice.

In a previous Practice Management Tip of the Month, we discussed the impact of dispensary walk in traffic patterns on your ability to hand off patients effectively to your Opticians.  We also provided a downloadable tally sheet that enables you to identify what the specific “walk-in” traffic pattern looks like for your practice.  Knowing this “walk-in” pattern is a vital aspect of developing a well-planned schedule template that enables optimal patient flow and likelihood that your patient will reach the dispensary on the day of their exam.  Visit this link for a copy of our previous month’s Practice Management Tip of the month.

Before we talk about the virtues of setting up dispensing appointments, let’s spend a little bit of time walking through the typical process we see.

  1. Patient selects a frame / lens options and check’s out.
  2. Optician tells the patient that the glasses will be ready in 7 – 10 days.
  3. Patient leaves the dispensary.
  4. Patient calls back on day 5 to find out if their glasses are ready yet, hoping that they might be ready early.
  5. Patient calls back on day 7 to find out if their glasses are ready yet.
  6. Optician receives glasses from the lab on day 9.
  7. Optician calls the patient and leaves a message to let them know their glasses are in.
  8. Patient calls back because they never listened to the message and the receptionist has to figure out why the patient is calling.
  9. Finally, the patient gets in contact with the Optician and finds out that their glasses are ready.
  10. Patient “Drops in” to pick up their glasses.
  11. Patient has to wait because the Optician is with another patient.
  12. Glasses are finally dispensed.

That’s a lot of steps to dispense a pair of glasses.  There are three reasons why this process is less than ideal:

  1. Calls from patients to inquire about the status of their glasses (“Are my glasses ready?”) make up the second highest volume of incoming phone calls into most Eye Care Businesses.  This reason for incoming phone calls is only second to scheduling an appointment.  Incoming phone calls inquiring about the status of glasses is only magnified when Opticians call and leave messages for patients letting them know that their glasses are ready, because many patients don’t even listen to their voice messages.  They just call back.
  2. Patients coming in for a dispensing will arrive at the practice at a time that is convenient for them (which is usually not convenient for you.) Most dispensing visits will occur around the lunch hour when the patient can take a break from work, or towards the end of the day because the patient left early from work.  The lunch hour is tough because this is usually a time when part of your staff is out to lunch.  These heavy dispensing times also happen to coincide with times when people come in for repairs and adjustments, frame selections from a previous day’s appointment, etc.  At the same time, the Optometrist is trying to hand-off patients from the exam room into an already busy practice.  Eye Care Businesses that are open on Saturdays also have heavy dispensing visits during this time.  This is prime “Selling” time that you don’t want to clutter with dispensing visits.
  3. When patients show up for dispensing appointments unannounced, Opticians have to scramble to get the glasses ready for dispensing. You might argue here that the glasses should have already been cleaned, prepped and kitted previously.  The reality is that this just doesn’t happen all the time.

All of the issues listed above present good reasons why scheduling dispensing appointments can actually improve your productivity and enhance the patient experience in your practice.  Dispensing appointments may sound less convenient to the patient, but in reality they offer an opportunity to ensure that Opticians are available when the patient comes in for their dispensing.

Dispensing appointments help to drastically reduce incoming phone calls with inquiries about the status of glasses.  Patients who receive an appointment time and date for dispensing, have a concrete expectation of when they are supposed to be back to pick up their glasses.  This will eliminate the incoming phone call because a specific time and date has been set.  Appointment reminder technology can then be leveraged to send patients confirmations / reminders about their upcoming appointment.  Delays from the lab do occur from time to time.   Because of this, a process has to be put in place to verify that glasses have arrived prior to the dispensing appointment so that the patient can be rescheduled if an issue occurred.

Another virtue of dispensing appointments is that they help shift dispensing patients into less busy times of the day.  If your Optical is less busy around 10:00 am for example, this might be a great time to setup a few dispensing appointment slots for each Optician so that you can leverage your optical staff better during that time.  That also helps reduce traffic during other more popular times of the day so that you have a higher likelihood of finding an available Optician when you want to hand-off a patient at the end of your exam.  Dispensing appointments help you level load patient arrivals into your dispensary so that your Opticians can handle a larger number of patients throughout the day.

Finally, dispensing appointments help your staff prepare for the dispensing visit ahead of time.  Having a reasonable expectation of when a patient is supposed to arrive will enable your staff to prepare the dispensing kit ahead of time so they aren’t hunting down cleaner, cloths, and cases while the patient is in front of them.  This will help make the visit more efficient and enable your Optician to provide a high level of service while moving on to the next patient in less time.

Just like with scheduling eye exam appointments, scheduling dispensing appointments involves developing a robust process for how to handle different situations like glasses not being ready, Opticians being out of the office, etc.  For more information on how to setup dispensing appointments in your practice, please email us at:  info@practicecopilot.com, or call at (904) 701-3084.  We are here to help.

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