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Optimising your database


Optometrists have some unique challenges. For instance, it is very difficult to obtain a differential advantage over the opposition, because everybody has access to the same products. However, unlike most other businesses, it is endowed with a considerable benefit, in that every single customer’s detail is recorded in the Master File. The patient database is beyond doubt the most valuable asset in the business. The patient database can be seen as the practice scorecard – the number of active patients in it as well as the quality of the type of patients reflects on how well the optometrist is doing regarding creating long term relationships. What you want is a database full of patients who regularly return for their eye care.

It stands to reason that the value of the database is a function of the computer software used. The practice management software needs to be strong in extracting the required reports and facilitating easy communication with patients. There is often a discrepancy between what your gut-feel tells you and the actual numbers regarding where your patients come from, what products you prescribe, which medical aids are most prominent and so on. It is important to know the facts so that your marketing, services, and products can be aligned to attract those patients conspicuous by their absence.


The process of capturing patient details into the Master File needs to be supervised on an ongoing basis. As a matter of course, the Master File will become corrupted over time and to counter this, the front liners need to be kept aware of the importance of accurate capturing. To quote Daleen Slabbert; ”Computers only tell us what we tell them.” The axiom; garbage in, garbage out, holds true and therefore it must be revamped and cleaned up from time to time.

Re-vamping the data base

Although it may be perceived as a pain in the neck, re-vamping your database will bring about unexpected benefits. In my experience, it always has a nice positive effect on turnover. Employ a part-timer (or a team), to systematically work through your database by calling every patient and request to update their details. Since you already have a business relationship with these people, it will not be seen as a “cold call.” It is important for the caller to identify herself and your practice upfront and get to the point quickly. 

“This is Sally from ABC optometrists; I would like to update your details quickly – would this be convenient right now?”

It should go something like this::

  • May I check your address, medical aid, and cell number
  • May we use these to communicate with you (permission required by law)
  • Say something positive – new service – free frame alignment – new contact lenses – extended hours – new frame ranges
  • Offer an appointment if they are due
  • Make notes of any negative comments.

Who are your patients?

Knowing the profile of your patient base can tell you a lot about your practice. For instance, if the average age of your patient base is only 36 years, it should be a concern. Where are the presbyopes? You want a detailed breakdown by:

  • Age
  • Postal code (the neighbourhood will be indicative of the income group)
  • New patients
  • Contact lens patients
  • Cash vs. Medical aid
  • Invoice value
  • Top 10 medical aids

If you are practicing in Tswane and you don’t see many Medihelp patients, something must be wrong.

Turn over analysis

A break-down of how the turnover is made up as a percentage.

For example:

Consultations 12%
Frames 34%
Lenses 36%
Lens add-ons 12%
Contact lenses 3%
Accessories 1%
Sunglasses 2%

A pattern will emerge for your practice over time, and this information can be very useful if you are concerned about your profitability and need to find answers.

Patient communication

It is important to keep your patients abreast of new developments in eye care and eyewear. They must be reminded that you value their support and care about their well-being. Your software package must be able to extract mailing lists of patients according to what they are wearing, such as; single vision, bifocals, multi focals, contact lenses, as well as what their interest are. These days people are bombarded with spam and cold calls. To this end, one must communicate what is pertinent and of value to them. In the optometric space, one should always strive to personalise relationships. If you establish long term relationships with patients, they will come back. This strategy must start with the patient record. What is the primary concern about their eyes, such as early lens changes, can’t adapt to multi focals and so on. It is so important to have a “hook.”


The “Hook” is critical with the patient recall. “At the last visit, we noticed early lens changes – time to have a look.” The optometrist is the main link here. At the end of the consultation, the “hook” should be identified and recorded, so that it can be included in the recall at some future date. There are various ways to construct a system for recalls that will keep things straight and effective over time. I describe such a system in my book “Navigating the business of optometry, available on Amazon.


There are vital issues that need to be addressed, to reap full value from your patient database. Capturing accuracy, which means those responsible should be motivated and supervised. An excellent software package with reports already set up so that they are easy to access and produce. Introducing strategies, such as “The Hook,” which will provide the right information for effective patient communication.