Smartphones,Tablets and Mobile Apps Change the Conversation

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 Andrew Newkirch, OD, said Demandforce helps him reduce expenses at Carillon Vision Care.
Thanks to smartphones and tablets, ECPs and patients are connecting in new and novel ways. Used for voice and text messaging, e-mail, and in combination mobile apps, the ubiquitous devices make it possible for ECPs to remind patients about appointments, notify them when their glasses are ready, inform them about special events and even send birthday greetings. Patients are using these technologies to locate nearby doctors, communicate with them through online social networks, book appointments, read patient reviews of ECPs and ask their doctor questions.

 
 EyeXam mobile app’s doctor directory.
One product developed specifically to help eye doctors connect with patients is EyeXam. A bi-directional mobile app and web platform developed by Global EyeVentures in partnership with Eyefinity, EyeXam is available as a free download from The Apple Store. The app offers features such as a doctor directory, a GPS-based doctor locator and avenues for communicating with EyeXam users, patient self-screening and the ability to share results and live chat with doctors’ offices. Patients can also manage appointments with the app and receive communications from their doctor, including reminders and targeted messages. Doctors can utilize a web-based dashboard to monitor app activity, access a list of everyone who has viewed the app, by e-mail address, and connect with app users.

“EyeXam provides a direct pipeline between you and your patient,” said Justin Bazan, OD, owner of Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, N.Y., who recently began using the app. “There’s no need for instant messaging or e-mails. If you have the app on your phone, you’re instantly connected.”

 
Justin Bazan, OD said EyeXam provides a “direct pipeline” to his patients at Park Slope Eye.

Bazan said he likes the immediacy that EyeXam offers. “It lets you correspond with people in real time,” he said. “If someone contacts you through the app, you can reply instantly. It may be the deciding factor as to whether they book an appointment with you. By contacting a patient at their highest level of interest, you strike when the iron is hot.” He added that if a doctor receives a text message from a patient, the message will pop up immediately and be less likely to be ignored, as e-mail messages sometimes are.

Some eyecare practices are using specially designed software to send text messages, e-mails and electronic newsletters to patients via their smartphones. One vendor, Demandforce, describes its software as “a complete marketing and communication platform” for eyecare practices.

Optometrist Andrew J. Neukirch, the CEO of Carillon Vision Care in Glenview, Ill., said Demandforce probably saves his staff about five hours a week because they no longer have to call patients to remind them of appointments. “We have about 5,000 active patients, and the automatic appointment feature is very helpful,” said Dr. Neukirch. “Patients don’t have to pick up the phone, they can just click a couple of times and send us a text. I’m surprised how well it’s catching on. Patients of all ages like it.”

Dr. Neukirch likes Demandforce’s recall feature that sends patients text and e-mail messages as their next appointment approaches. It also sends out birthday greetings. However, a few established patients were slightly annoyed by the frequency and timing of the messages, he said. “Some of them were getting messages in the middle of the night, so I had to explain that they should turn off their ringer when they went to sleep.”

Dr. Neukirch said Demandforce saves him about $7,000 a year on postage, since he uses it to send patients a quarterly electronic newsletter rather than mailing it to them. Demandforce’s survey feature is another plus, he noted. “Our patients get a thank you for coming in, and with it there’s a link where they can take a survey. We ask them about the cleanliness of the facility, their wait time, whether the doctor explained their treatment clearly and whether they were satisfied with the products available. Based on the results of the survey, I’ve brought in higher end product and our patients are delighted.”

Dr. Neukirch said Demandforce also helps his practice manage its online reputation by collecting certified reviews of the practice and publishing them on the web. The software can also be used to post the reviews on the practice’s website or Facebook page, a feature which has helped attract new patients to Carillon Vision Care. “Our total number of patients has gone up. Word of mouth is the number one reason, but a lot are people who are new to the area find us online.”

 
 Tracie Hartman, office manager, Family Eyecare Associates likes Solutionreach’s customizable features.
Solutionreach is another company that provides eyecare practices with a variety of services to streamline office management, manage online reputations, and market through social media, including text, e-mail, voice, video, web and social media tools. Tracie Hartman, office manager of Family EyeCare Associates in Tacoma, Wash., said Solutionreach’s versatility appeals to her. “It’s all editable and customizable for each patient. For example, we can change the frequency of the recall notices. When an appointment is scheduled we send out a reminder immediately and the patient will put it into their phone. Then they get a reminder one week before the appointment, then one day before. All they have to do is hit confirm, and we put it on our books. That has decreased no-shows to almost none.”

The Solutionreach software can generate a cancellation list, a feature Hartman also finds valuable. “If we have a patient call and cancel a day or two before an appointment, we have a list of people who want to be notified. We send out an e-mail, and the first one to call gets the appointment. We get responses within minutes. Some patients say it’s like a game to see if they can call first.”

 
Family Eyecare Associates uses Solutionreach to send patients personalized birthday greetings.
Hartman said Solutionreach’s recall system is much more effective than the old method of sending out postcards, which patients tend to lose. “We’re booked a month to a month and a half out. A couple of our patients just love the fact we’re in touch with them.”

Family EyeCare Associates also sends out more lighthearted messages to patients. Last Halloween, the staff dressed in costumes and invited patients to come in and join the fun. And when her husband, Erick Hartman, OD, turned 60 last June, the office send out a mass text and invited patients to come in for an open house celebration. “The patients told us they liked the fact that we put our practice in front of them and are connecting with them,” said Hartman, adding that the office also sends birthday greetings to patients featuring the staff wearing party hats and boas.

 
 Optician Oleg Gonik and Maria Zenteno of Flatbush Optical using Solutionreach’s patient video system to record a patient’s testimonial.
Recently, Solutionreach introduced a new service that taps into two trends that have been changing the way business is conducted in both the retail and the health care spaces—the rise of personal recommendations to drive business to a particular location and the advent of video and its accessibility to consumers and patients on the web and via mobile devices. The company’s new video survey service, SR Video, enables an eyecare practice to capture patient feedback and share it online.

“What I love about the Solutionreach video is once in a while, we make a true friend, and not only are people happy but they’re happy to the point where they really want to express themselves,” said Oleg Gonik, a New York State licensed optician who co-owns Flatbush Optical, which operates two locations in Brooklyn, N.Y. “People write reviews, but it’s awesome when you have a face to go with the review. We upload the videos to YouTube Flatbush Optical; it’s all linked to Flatbush Optical. Every little bit of exposure we can get on the Internet now is very desirable. It puts us above a lot of competitors.”

Gonik is selective about which patients are asked to make videos. “You have to get a patient who is representative of the neighborhood’s demographics,” he said. “You want everyday, common people, so that when others see it they recognize themselves.” ■