Article Date: 1/1/2007

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the business of contact lenses

Can Administrative Red Tape Keep Patients Out of Lenses?
BY GARY GERBER, OD

My 11-year-old son Maverick (yes, that's his real name and yes, it's cool) was having a problem with his braces. An exposed wire had suddenly started irritating his mouth. When we called his orthodontist, we learned that she was away and that another doctor was covering for her. We called that doctor and the receptionist told us to come right over. She said, "You don't need an appointment, we'll remember his name."

On the drive over I was expecting to have to fill out his dental history, insurance information, HIPAA documents and the like. Upon entering the office however, I received a very pleasant surprise. "Maverick, come right in and we'll take care of you right away," the receptionist said. "Do I have to fill out any paperwork?" I asked. "No, that's not necessary. Just have a seat and relax."

What? No paperwork for a new patient? Is this doctor legitimate and licensed or is an auto mechanic filling in for our doctor?

But the biggest shock was yet to come. When my son came out the doctor told me he had fixed everything and all was okay. I thanked him for the quick service and headed to the front desk to pay. "No charge" the same smiling receptionist said. "Excuse me, did I hear you correctly?" I asked. "No charge?" "Yes, that's correct. Have a great day!" she replied.

Question the Status Quo

This experience got me thinking about what happens to our contact lens patients who might need to see a covering doctor when we're away. If one of your patients gets a contact lens stuck under his upper lid while you're scuba diving in Fiji, how does your covering doctor handle this?

When things are reversed and you're covering for someone else, how would you and your staff deal with this patient? Would you be willing to take the lens out with no preliminary paperwork, no HIPAA documents and no fee? Are you concerned about potential legal liabilities should there be any problems? Would any significant problems occur? Admittedly, I have more questions than answers on this topic, but I hope that as I felt after leaving the covering orthodontist's office, you also start to question the status quo of how you handle things like this.

Put Yourself in Patients' Shoes

If there's a way to make your patients' experience less of a hassle by removing any non-essential administrative road blocks, then do so. As far as fees, I don't think anyone likes when practitioners do things for free less than I do. After all, I've built a consulting company based on teaching our colleagues how to be profitable, and providing free service isn't the fastest path to profits. Or in this case, is it?

If we as an industry took a more macro view of my son's visit and worked toward making our own patients' contact lens experiences devoid of front desk snags, might more patients be wearing contact lenses? Have we added our own micro-bureaucracies to the contact lens segments of our practices and have those bureaucracies dissuaded patients from wearing lenses? Again, more questions than answers, but certainly food for contact lens building thought.

Reassess Your Office Policies

The next time a prospective contact lens patient tells you, "I'll think about it," question if something in your contact lens office process prevented him from saying "Sure! I'd love to wear lenses!" Beyond things like lenses and solutions, make sure the infrastructure and systems that support your contact lens "fitting machine" are as up-to-date and trouble-free as the newer types of lenses we've been fitting. CLS


Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice – a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists.



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: January 2007