This article originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of INVISION.
I find the idea of writing about a “family-friendly” eyecare practice a bit odd. Providing quality eyecare for families is the foundation of the primary care nature of optometry. However, deciding how you design your practice, the policies you use and the inventory you display is very important in determining whether your practice is, in fact, family-friendly.
Let’s start with the obvious, what are the ages of the children you want to include in your practice? Some doctors feel uncomfortable providing eyecare for children under 5 while others enthusiastically participate in the American Optometric Association’s InfantSEE program providing exams for babies between 6 and 12 months old.
You will need to decide your own comfort level but once you do, there are some things you need to consider to become a true family-friendly practice.
1 Create an office environment that is appealing, to the ages of the children for who you provide care. If it’s pre-teens, there are certain features you can incorporate into your office environment. For instance, include books or magazines that appeal to them in a special area. They also enjoy cartoons; you can play them to hold their attention.
2 Dedicate blocks of your weekly schedule to children. Prioritize them either before or after school hours. Contact your local school district and see when elementary, middle and high schools begin and end. You may learn that each level has a different schedule. By making sure these times are available you increase the convenience for parents.
3 Offer online appointment scheduling, so busy parents can plan their child’s vision care at the end of a long day filled with work and child activities. It will be rewarded with enthusiastic referrals to other busy families. (In reality is there another kind of family?) This is a big win for both parents and practices. The more online appointments made, the fewer interruptions from your office phone.
4 Look at your practice from a parent’s point of view. If you have children, at their next doctor’s visit analyze the experience as a parent would coming to your practice. How do the chairs feel? Was it easy to make the appointment? What is and isn’t friendly about the office environment?
5 Go social. Write a family vision blog that also includes three- to five-minute educational videos. Promote the blog by including the website on all of your patient materials and specialty items. Mention it to parents when they are in the exam room while you are seeing their child. There are many things you can write about including common eye problems associated with the climate of the area, sports vision, nutrition, importance of good vision with school performance and more. Brainstorm with your staff, many of whom themselves may be parents, to come up with at least 12 topics for a monthly posting schedule or more for periodic “special issues.”
6 Consider different pricing approaches that will appeal to families in your community. One may be discounted eyewear if three or more family members purchase prescription eyewear within 30 days of one another or 60 or 90. The point is, you are showing parents that you understand that purchasing eyewear for multiple family members may not easily fit in a family’s budget and you are helping make the purchase more affordable.