Historically, independent eye care providers have owned the patient experience in their practices. Other options simply did not measure up. Yet, major players in eye care are making significant investments in delivering a better patient consumer experience, to attract more customers and increase sales. This forces us to look deeper and make sure our patient consumer experience is the best it can be.

I use the term ‘patient consumer’ because the individuals that walk through our doors really are both — 100% patient with healthcare needs and a desire for a doctor-patient relationship built on trust and empathy AND 100% consumer, making decisions throughout the patient journey with a consumer mindset. If we as independent eye care professionals want to continue to attract new patients, keep the ones we have, and grow, we must recognize this reality. When we take both pieces of the individual into consideration, it can shift the way we look at the patient consumer experience and allow us to innovate in new and creative ways.

In a recent episode of The Fluorescene Show, I discussed a powerful strategy for improving the patient consumer experience called customer journey mapping. To create your own customer journey map, you first chart out each step the patient consumer takes in interacting with your practice. This is called a high-level journey map. Using a comprehensive exam as an example, the journey begins when the patient consumer identifies that they need an exam. For a new patient, this could be due to the awareness of eye strain while on the computer. For an existing patient, this could simply be due to your recall process. Once you have the starting point, you map out all the steps the patient consumer takes to schedule an appointment, have their exam, purchase in your optical, and check out, keeping in mind the contact with the patient should not stop just because they’ve completed their exam.

Once you have itemized the steps the patient takes, look at all the different actions the patient must take at each step of the journey and identify the emotions they experience. These emotions may be exactly what you want (e.g., excitement, calm or anticipation) or they may be the opposite of what you desire (e.g., anger, frustration or nervousness). Once you have your journey map laid out, you can get to work on improving the experience the patient consumer receives.

Once the journey is mapped, the best place to start is with your team members. Unless you are a one-person show, your team members are much closer to certain steps along the journey than you are. They’re on the phone or in person interacting with your patients. They’re engaging with their stories and hearing their emotions. I guarantee they have ideas of how to improve the journey steps they are closest to and tapping into those stories and ideas is the truly the best place to start.

To engage your team in improving the patient consumer experience, always start with the mission and your ‘why.’ As part of a staff meeting, inform the team of your desire to improve your patients’ experience and tie it directly to your practice’s mission. Ask them both as a collective team and individually in one-on-ones about what they see daily, what they believe needs to be addressed, and what ideas they have to improve their individual journey steps. You’ll end up with more ideas than you can implement at one time, so prioritize together what improvements are most important, what quick wins you can accomplish, and plan out how and when those steps will be changed or implemented. For bigger projects, lay out when and how you plan to begin those. Above all, do not be afraid to try something new. If it does not impact the journey in the ways you anticipated, it will likely give you even better ideas to try next.

Independent eye care professionals have an incredibly bright future for meeting the needs of today’s patient consumer. Begin with the customer journey map, engage your team members in finding new ways to make it better, and if you need help, be sure to take advantage of the expertise and experience of the PECAA Member Business Advisor Team. From there, just watch your practice grow.