As seen in Women in Optometry magazine, Published June 2016
When Dorothy gets to Oz, she says, “People come and go so quickly here.” Ellen Merkin, OD, of Las Vegas, Nevada, says that’s true with the mobile population in her city, as well. That can make it very difficult to stay in contact with patients. That problem was most noticeable as Dr. Merkin’s staff sent out recall postcards each month. “Recall cards didn’t seem effective,” she says.
In fact, the challenge of keeping up with her patients became increasingly acute as the tourist-heavy economy in Las Vegas suffered after 9/11. “People were not traveling, and unemployment here skyrocketed,” she recalls. The city is on the rebound, but it’s been a slow process, Dr. Merkin says, noting that it’s important that she retain her existing patients. As multiple recall cards were being returned to the office each month, she says she didn’t know if these patients had left Las Vegas for good or moved a few blocks away.
When Dr. Merkin heard of Solutionreach, she thought that the company’s offerings made sense for her patient population. “The younger generation is much more tuned in with email and text communication. Many of the families in our area have dropped their home phone lines, too, so the old ways of calling and leaving a message on the home phone or sending a letter aren’t reaching people. People can change their address and their home phone number, but they tend to hold onto their cell phone numbers and emails. No-shows seem to be less these days,” she says.
The results have been great. “Younger patients love getting text reminders. They often tell me how glad they were to get a reminder the morning of their appointment,” she says. The staff has liked it, too. Now, as a matter of course, new patients are asked for their email or cell phone numbers, and staff explains that the office uses these for reminders and occasional updates. Those patients who say that they prefer receiving a phone call are accommodated easily with Natural Voice technology, which provides automated landline messaging for the patients who want this type of communication.
Overall, Dr. Merkin says that she finds that some of the increase in exams is attributable to Solutionreach messaging. The flow of recall reminders is steadier now. When the office staff used to mail postcards, it became a team effort to pull the names of everyone who was due for an exam that month—and all the postcards would get sent at once for the month ahead. That meant a lot of phone calls came in at once and a lot of returned mail came in at once. Solutionreach sends out automated appointment reminders daily— to the patients who are due for an annual exam based on the date of their previous exam. So the responses come in at a manageable rate, and patients don’t have to wait long to get an appointment. Patients can call for an appointment or they can send a text or email to request a specific date or time of day, and a staff member will call to confirm.
In addition, patients who don’t respond are contacted again more quickly. In the past, tracking who hadn’t responded and then trying to contact that patient took considerable time. Patients would get a recall card at 12 months, and those who didn’t respond would get another at 18 months after their previous exam. Solutionreach sends out another message the following month, which increases the likelihood that patients are seen on a more frequent basis.
“Patients think that they’re getting the reminder contact directly from the office,” says Dr. Merkin. It’s not uncommon for her to ask patients who hadn’t been back to the office in a few years why they’ve come back. “Well, you called me” is often their response. So she knows that Solutionreach is getting to those patients and encouraging their return.
In addition, the practice uses Solutionreach ASAP feature for broadcast messaging on occasion. “We recently had a power outage that shut down this part of the city, so we sent out a message to everyone that we’d be closed. It meant our staff could go home, and no one had to be left behind making phone calls to patients the schedule,” Dr. Merkin says. The staff still makes personal phone calls to patients, but it’s less often—and less of an interruption to the daily routine.
Solutionreach can also populate the practice’s Facebook page with user reviews. Dr. Merkin says that the feature was recently linked to the Facebook page, and immediately, the reviews and comments that had come in through surveys sent out by Solutionreach, were added.