May is Healthy Vision month. Eye care professionals are well familiar with advice given to patients to promote healthy vision—stop smoking, eat healthy foods, get adequate exercise, wear sunglasses, and minimize eyestrain. But how this message is delivered has changed: The office visit is only part of your opportunity to effectively engage patients—both to teach them about healthy vision and earn their loyalty.
Find out communication preferences
Effective patient engagement begins at the first point of contact. It’s not just about what you tell patients, but the medium used to communicate. Find out and keep track of the patient’s communication preferences.
Younger people tend to favor digital tools—texting or email. Older people tend to prefer a phone call. However, not everyone fits a generational stereotype; for example, many older patients now prefer a text over a phone call.
Respecting the patient’s communication preferences shows patients that you listen. It indicates that their convenience matters—especially because it can save time otherwise spent on the phone on hold. Indeed, the COVID-19 public health emergency may have influenced communication preferences—shifting a larger portion your patients toward digital communication, as more activities went online.
When a prospective or current patient calls your office, have front office staff ask how they wish to be contacted and record their response. Also consider implementing a patient engagement solution that allows patients to set their communication preferences via a patient portal.
Be prepared for fast communication
As one example: If the schedule changes due to a doctor suddenly being out of office, knowing communication preferences can speed up communication and help minimize inconvenience. Text messages can be sent to patients who prefer digital communication. This reduces the need for staff to make urgent phone calls.
Enable patients to set appointments online
A solution that allows patients to make appointments online—and cancel appointments within an established timeframe—can be a game-changer. Giving the patient greater ability to set their schedule provides a greater sense of control and convenience from the get-go.
Now take advantage of face-to-face interaction
Effective online patient engagement solutions create the smoothest possible path to the key moment—when the patient visits your office. Direct communication with an ophthalmologist or optometrist is powerful and remains the best way to advocate for behaviors that promote healthy vision. Even in our computer-driven age, face-to-face is the best medium to communicate professional skills and a sense of compassion.
Let communication preferences drive patient education
When providing patient education, continue to acknowledge communication preferences. Guide patients who prefer digital communication to their patient portal. For individuals who keep their smartphone close at hand, electronic formats are best.
Some patients will still respond best to printed materials. Have pamphlets available to give these patients immediately after their examination.
Keep Communication accurate and ongoing
To build patient loyalty, keep lines of communication flowing. Remind patients when it’s time to schedule an appointment. Alert them when upcoming appointments are close at hand. Consider implementing an automated patient recall system with options for email, text messages, and direct mail.
Your EHR stores information about each patient’s demographics and ocular diagnoses and treatments. Use this information to engage with patients about services or treatment options specific to their eye care needs. For example, a new premium intraocular lens (IOL) comes on the market. With a patient engagement solution integrated into your EHR, you can send an automatic notification to all patients diagnosed with cataracts. This type of communication is best delivered via securely using the patient portal.
Ongoing communication encourages compliance. For patients who don’t have immediate treatment needs, a message from your practice is a reminder that routine eye care is important even when they don’t have symptoms of disease.
Although in-person office visits remain the heart and soul of ophthalmic practice, digital technology continues to change the way practices communicate with patients. Practices that keep pace with advances in patient engagement can improve quality of care and increase their chances of success. What matters most: Understand the opportunity inherent in digital patient engagement and the value of accommodating communication preferences—both to advocate for healthy vision and to build a stronger bridge to patients.