Gary Foster, MD, ophthalmologist at and medical director for The Eye Laser Center of Northern Colorado, identifies the six most important steps necessary to become the best laser center in America.
1. Ensure patient satisfaction. The most important step is ensuring the satisfaction of the patients you serve.
"If you have extremely satisfied patients, they form the foundation of a great laser center because extremely satisfied patients advocate for your practice and validate all of your marketing messages," Dr. Foster says. "Their friends enter the center planning to proceed with surgery as long as their visit with you validates what they have already been told by satisfied patients.
"Exceptional patient experience comes when the price they pay pales compared to the vision they achieve and the way they were treated — the wonder of the vision and the experience seem almost magical to them," he says. "If a center is delivering that kind of patient satisfaction, then they're going to have the opportunity to accomplish all of the other steps [in this list] … because they will have enough volume and margin to afford the technology and it will be a rewarding place to work so they will attract and retain world class staff."
To achieve this level of patient satisfaction, a center needs to both measure and treasure satisfaction, Dr. Foster says. This requires tracking patient satisfaction and then openly celebrating examples of great service with the employees. It also requires rewarding — both verbally and financially — staff members for their commitment to ensuring patient satisfaction. The goal of these efforts is to make patient satisfaction the dominant topic of conversation at the center.
"If you achieve that, clients are going to be drawn and driven to your facility by previous patients," Dr. Foster says. "Before they even meet you, they will come in with an assumption of why they should prefer you."
2. Deliver world-class outcomes. Satisfaction can remain high for a center even if it has average outcomes for a time if patients receive exceptional care, but no center can rise to "best of class" if it's relying on customer service to make up for a high enhancement rate, Dr. Foster says.
"Achieving great outcomes requires a focus on the details, consistency and careful nomogram management," he says. "An orthopedic friend of mine once shook his head and said, 'I don't know about you ophthalmology types. You get away with calling a 'return to the OR' an 'enhancement.' That just sounds like a 'return to the OR' to me and we consider that a bad thing.' Despite our euphemisms, most patients consider an 'enhancement' a bad thing. They are grateful for the commitment to give them the best vision possible, but consider it a failure of the initial treatment no matter what we call it."
3. Use the best equipment available. "If a center uses second-tier equipment but charges a quality LASIK price, they really are a discounter disguised as a quality LASIK center," Dr. Foster says. "Their message and the value they offer are at odds. This disconnect will be discovered by the community and they will not be prospered."
4. Maintain appropriate volume. A center needs to have enough surgical volume and profit margin so it can maintain the best equipment, maintain excellence in the surgeon's skill and attract and maintain great staff. In addition, with good volume, a center can detect and respond more quickly to subtle changes in equipment performance, Dr. Foster says.
The amount of volume needed to achieve these objectives would vary from one center to another based on overhead costs.
5. Build a facility reflective of your mission. "Your facility should give an immediate sense of comfort, competence and quality with a patient centered flow pattern," Dr. Foster says. Failure to maintain consistency of message throughout all elements of the facility may lead to confused clients who postpone their procedure or look elsewhere.
"If any of the messages from the handouts you give a patient, the style and décor of the facility, to the way your staff interacts with patients [and each other] … are inconsistent or incongruent, the patients are going to feel uncomfortable," Dr. Foster says. "They're going to go somewhere where they sense a consistency of message because there's a certain amount of anxiety that accompanies the thought of someone doing surgery on your eye, and patients are definitely going to choose a facility where they feel a sense of peace and trust. If anything is out of line, the mere incongruity is going to create a feeling of disconnect and discomfort."
6. Keep staff focused. The staff needs to have a keener focus than even the laser. One of the advantages of running a laser-specific facility is you can find the staff that excel at elective medicine. But where Dr. Foster says he has seen centers struggle is they ask these staff members to work with both insurance and self-pay patients.
"Excellence in each of those requires very different approach and skill set," he says. "Not many people have both skill sets and even fewer can quickly shift back and forth between them all day long."
"If staff meetings and casual conversations with employees are dominated by training customer service and celebrating service successes, then the focus will follow," Dr. Foster says. "Becoming the best laser center in America requires excellence and undeterred focus in customer experience, outcomes, equipment, facility, volume and staff."
Learn more about The Eye Center of Northern Colorado and Dr. Gary Foster.
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