OPTOMETRY PRACTICE OWNER RESOURCESDon’t Make Policy on Exceptions
Bethany Fishbein, OD
Don’t Make Policy on Exceptions
It’s a common trap.
Something comes up in the office that hasn’t happened before. Or maybe it’s happened here and there, but for some reason (full moon?) it happens twice in one week. And before the patient is even out the door, the practice owner is posting to ask colleagues “Does anyone have a waiver” and planning an entire policy change.
The result of this can be more damaging than people realize.
Have you ever been to one of those doctors’ offices that has a wall of signs taped to the front door or the reception desk window glass? “Patients cannot be seen without a referral” “$30 fee for returned checks” “We will reschedule you if you are more than 15 minutes late” and so on.
As practice owners, it’s pretty easy to imagine how each of these signs came to be.
What people don’t realize is the negative effect these signs can have on the practice brand and reputation you and your team have worked so hard to create.
When a new patient arrives and is greeted by multiple signs, or a stack of paperwork to sign indicating that all sales are final, refunds won’t be considered, charges are their responsibility, they better not bounce checks, they’ll be charged for lateness, and no-shows, and that products may take longer than they expect… what impression are they getting? And more importantly, is this impression in line with the patient experience you envision for your practice?
Few practice owners’ visions for their office are “being a place where patients are informed of our strict policies, which are upheld without exception” — it’s much more common that we hear things like “being a place where patients feel welcome and find it easy to do business with us.”
The “wall of signs” is a pretty clear indicator that this will not be the case. Patients are suddenly on high alert, reading the signs and scrutinizing the paperwork for policies that may affect them. They wonder what “normal business” is like in your office. They sign “No refunds” and wonder what’s going on that so many people must be asking for refunds.
Their first impression is one of a practice that’s *not* easy to do business with, and is maybe even preparing to be adversarial (because admit it, the purpose of the signs and forms is to have a “weapon” in conflict when it occurs. “Well you signed our policy that…” ) Does that really solve the problem?
When you create and implement policy based on the 5% of patients who cause problems, you’re creating an impression for the rest of the patients. The 5% isn’t going to be placated by “well you signed the policy”– they’re still going to argue and make you miserable. And in the meantime, you’ve diluted (or negated?!) the positive first impression for the rest.
Before you create a new policy or post a new sign, take a pause. Ask yourself if this is truly for patients, or if it is for you to cover yourself in the case of a conflict. Is the message that you’re showing consistent with the brand/impression you want to give a new patient? And is it something you’re completely willing to uphold, even if a patient argues?
If not, skip the sign. Skip the forms. Grumble at the outlier, and remind yourself that it’s truly just that– an outlier. Look up at the beauty of the full moon and move on.
Bethany Fishbein, OD