The Patient Paperwork Problem

Recently, I witnessed an online gripe session of a bunch of optometrists and opticians on a popular social media platform and group.  The gist of the complaint was this:

“On which planet does a new patient show up to an office and NOT expect to fill out paperwork?”

There were several dozen comments on this and almost all of them were to the effect of “no kidding…patients are ridiculous.”  Don’t get me wrong, patients can be ridiculous.  And optometrists and opticians can be equally ridiculous, too.  But we gripe because the world doesn’t revolve around our wants and needs as professionals nor as fellow human beings.  Believe me…I get it.  On more than one occasion I’ve complained about the following things:

  • People don’t use the Oxford comma anymore.  Hell, people don’t even know what it is.
  • Everybody takes 45 minutes when at the pharmacy drive thru.  I take 2.1 minutes.  What is going on here?
  • Joe Buck and Troy Aikman calling football games.  I’d rather floss with barbed wire than listen to them call a game.

What does it mean when patients complain about something

When I read this, I had a vastly different reaction from most of those commenting.  What does it mean when patients complain about something, especially when several patients complain?  It means that they are telling you about one of their pain points.  Pain points are anything in the process of doing business with you that patients would like to see changed.  And when you hear these complaints, you should say “thank you so much for letting me know about this.”  Why thank the “thankless” complainers in your practice?  Because they are telling you the ways you can differentiate your business from your competitors.

Differentiation isn’t just important, it’s everything

Differentiation isn’t just important, it’s everything.  I’m not being hyperbolic here – it is actually everything.  Your differentiators are the answer to the most important question in business: why should customers patronize your business instead of your competitors?  I ask this question of practice owners all the time and the answers I get are…well…let’s just say the answers are not good.  Some of the answers I hear are:

  • We provide comprehensive eye care, high-quality service, and products, in a friendly environment, where we truly care about our patients
  • We have a great mix of value and fashion in our optical
  • We treat our patients with compassion and have their health and visual needs as our top priority, every time
  • We treat our patients as if they were our friends and family

Nothing here that is bad and that would keep patients away.  There is also nothing here that every eye care provider shouldn’t be doing during every patient encounter.  These are not differentiators; they are minimum expectations.

If you hate to fill out paperwork, patients will

When your patients complain to you about things like excess paperwork, stop rolling your eyes and lamenting patients’ unrealistic expectations.  Instead, spend some time fully defining what the pain point is.  For example, is it better if the paperwork isn’t on paper, but is instead digital?  Then think about the pain point from the patient perspective.  Do you like the paperwork you have to fill out when you go to your doctor?  I hate it.  For some unknown reason, my name, address, insurance info, and shoe size must be filled in on each of the 47 forms I complete before I can be seen.

Solve problems, not create them

Once you have a good understanding what the pain point is, figure out how you can eliminate it or minimize it.  Reducing paperwork couldn’t be easier to implement.  Just get a signature on the combined HIPAA, office policies, financial policies (and so on…) form, then use an oral interview of the patient for the complete history.  Doing this is so decidedly win-win that I can’t believe every practice doesn’t do this.  If you want to eliminate the patient that brings in 3 pounds of source material for their history and takes 45 minutes to fill out the paperwork, do this.  An oral history will be both faster and more accurate over the course of many patient encounters.

Implementing the solution to the pain point is just the beginning.  Being better only matters if people know how you are better.  Tell everyone.  Let all your current patients know how you have made their future experiences better for them.  Tell all your prospective patients why they should be choosing you over your competition, because you have fewer pain points.  Visit our website if you would like to know how we can help you, tell your patients how much better you are than your competitors.

Be different.
Be better.
Be continuously telling people how you are better.

Maidir te,
John McDaniel, OD, MLHR

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