An eye doctor uses a phoropter on a patient. Eye doctors are well aware of the challenges of encouraging patients to make annual appointments. According to the American Optometric Association’s Eye-Q Survey 2020, nearly 50% of people ages 23 to 38 believe they can skip an annual eye exam if they can see clearly. The pandemic certainly didn’t help matters. But there’s also good news. A survey by VSP Vision Care and You.gov found that 97% of participants view eye health as important. They just need a nudge in the right direction.

Now is the perfect time for eye doctors to consider opportunities for new messaging, services, and office improvements as a competitive strategy. Here are some ideas to get you started, using today’s hot topics as inspiration.

1. Highlight the new “whys” of exams

As patients consider returning to care, your marketing should reflect their current needs.

  • Screen them for screen time. Myopia has been linked to excessive screen time. In 2020, its prevalence in children ages 6 to 8 had increased 1.4 to 3 times compared with the previous 5 years (JAMA Ophthalmology). Other studies show a rise in digital eye fatigue. Consider adding screen usage to health history questions and share tips about screen breaks and blue-light-filtering lenses during visits.
  • Offer education on COVID eyes. People who’ve had COVID-19 may not know they could suffer long-term ocular effects, such as dry eye and retinopathy. Remind patients that early detection and treatment of eye conditions like these can help preserve vision.

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As in-person activities gradually return, some patients may see it as a time to refresh their appearance, which may include getting new glasses or trying contact lenses for the first time. Let your patients know that you can help.

2. Explore more online options

Patient demand for at-home and online solutions has increased. With people becoming more comfortable with digital platforms, it’s essential to add them to your offerings.

  • Offer video consults. In 2020, the AOA expanded the telemedicine options it supports. Eye doctors are using telemedicine for pre-visit check-ins and to evaluate new or acute problems, reducing time in the office and allowing for smarter scheduling.
  • Take the paper out of paperwork. Eye-care offices are allowing patients to submit questions or request a time slot via email, text, or an online form on their website.

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Consider creating a blog or adding blog articles to your practice’s website. WordPress is a platform that makes it easy to impart information to patients in this way.

3. Reframe your messages on safety

Some patients remain cautious about COVID-19 and others are “over” it. To learn what yours are thinking, you can send out this easy-to-share questionnaire (PDF). Or create your own online survey with tools like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey.

The good news: Everyone who visits your practice will benefit from the updates required by local and government safety protocols, as well as any improvements you made during shutdown.

  • Post before-and-after photos. If you updated the product area for social distancing, take photos of the new displays (and frames). Did you take out a loan to redo exam rooms or buy equipment? Share those successes on social media, too, and invite patients to drop by and see your new look.
  • Keep the practices patients like best. Patients will likely appreciate a continuation of safety measures, especially early in the post-pandemic era. When patients visit, have staff proudly share how you’ve made it more hygienic to try on glasses, use testing equipment, and more. If staff has been vaccinated, share that, too.

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Take a moment every few weeks to review the COVID-19 messaging on your website and adjust it as needed. You don’t want to still be mentioning temperature checks or COVID symptom surveys if you’ve done away with them.

4. Focus on how you’re viewed by others

Business Insider notes that it’s smart to revisit and revise your brand statement as your business evolves. A strong brand statement describes what makes you unique and why it’s of value to customers. Are you a boutique? A kid-friendly practice? Consider your niche when deciding on dress code, office décor, product offerings, logo, and everything else for your business. Also consider these tips:

  • Grow your network. This is one of the top 10 marketing strategies, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The AAO recommends touching base with at least three professionals per week who might give you referrals. Think outside the usual and include hairdressers, chiropractors, health-food-store owners, and others who encounter a lot of people per day.
  • Aim for straight A’s. Availability and affability are two things the AAO says matter very much to patients. For example, try to see patients (especially new ones) within a week of their call, and use their names and engage in light conversation. Both of these take a little time, so you may need to space out appointments to accommodate them.

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On your Facebook page, use videos and photos to show your human side. Try sharing behind-the-scenes snapshots of you and your staff at a community health fair or trying on your latest frames.

5. Clear up financial concerns

Almost two-thirds of people report reading issues, blurry vision, or other eye problems, but only 13% of them sought care, says an AAO survey. For many, finances are a primary barrier — and more people are struggling now than before.

  • Consider offering financing options. Some people are still struggling or may have lost their eye care plan for a time. By offering extended deadlines, a monthly payment plan, or a credit card with options for financing their healthcare costs, you can help them avoid a lapse in care — or afford costlier options like LASIK.
  • Highlight your value. With so many things shifting online in 2020, patients may be more apt to consider buying eyeglasses or contact lenses this way, especially if they don’t know all the perks of purchasing from you. Remind them that you can test-fit them with different brands of contact lenses until they find ones they like, and you can adjust the fit of their eyeglass frames, too. You may also want to discuss rebate offers and provide printouts of necessary paperwork to make it easy for patients to apply for them.

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To add new patients, consider offering local small businesses targeted promotions and discounts for their employees.

To set yourself up for future success, here’s one more thing to do after patients walk through your door: Make it a policy for staff to schedule their next exam before they leave — while they’re feeling great about you and your practice — and offer a cheery “see you next year!” It just might increase the likelihood that you will.

Learn more: To find out what your eye patients need now and in the near future, consider sending them this easy-to-share 5-minute survey (PDF).

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Optometric Association, Business Insider, The Eye Center, VSP Vision Care & You.gov