Not often do optometrists think about their after hours availability. In fact, for some doctors, this concern is never a concern or problem. It’s even required by many vision and medical care plans as a condition to being a panel provider. There is wide latitude on how after hours care is handled. It ranges from a message to call the nearest hospital emergency department to the doctor’s own cell phone.
Whatever approach a doctor takes, it telegraphs clearly to the patient how emergencies are handled. It also implies whether the doctor is ready, willing and interested in caring for the patient beyond glasses and contact lenses. Because medical eye and chronic care conditions are becoming more important in optometry, setting the tone for your practice that it goes beyond glasses and contact lens care is important.
The customary answering machine that offers a call back number or a number to an emergency department is common. If a personal after hours number is used, this gives the practice a chance to personally manage the patient. Otherwise, giving the nearest emergency department number actually provides no direction; in other words, it is the patient’s responsibility to find the emergency department.
Any kind of call back number can be used. It could be a single cellular phone that is passed around the office to the doctor who is “on call” or it could be the doctor’s personal cellular phone dedicated for emergency calls. Because mobile phones are so prevalent, text messaging a doctor for an emergency is like having a private paging number just for you. Text messaging is known to have the highest callback rate in communications with estimates reaching 90% call back within a few minutes. Patients rarely abuse this policy.
If patient management and retention are primary goals in a practice, it makes sense to intervene with the doctor rather than using the nearest emergency department. Doctors who are quick to ride the medical eye care train will find that offering a chance for a patient to directly talk with the doctor encourages practice loyalty and can make your after hours care a source of revenue and customer service.