Business, Feature, Practice management, Report

A one-stop-shop for patient attraction and retention

Staff across Ocula’s independent optometry network grew tired of their intricate appointment booking system. It’s now been streamlined thanks to a new relationship with a health service platform that’s also driving the business’s digital marketing to patients.

Independent optometry business Ocula has never made the mistake of underestimating the value online booking systems bring to the practice.

In fact, the business – which operates three locations across New Zealand’s South Island in Christchurch and the resort towns of Queenstown and Wanaka – went to great lengths to develop its own ‘quasi-online booking system’ using third party software, which sat alongside its practice management system Optomate.

But the process was arduous and much maligned among staff.

“Obviously that didn’t link automatically into Optomate,” Ms Danielle Winstone, director and optometrist at Ocula, recalls.

“It was an incredibly manual process. We realised the huge importance of online booking, and how important it is to consumers these days to be able to make appointments online after hours. But there was nothing available at the time from Optomate, we were having to do our own kind of band-aid approach to make it work. Our customers really appreciated being able to book online, but it was a nightmare from the back-end side of things.”

For Winstone, the frustrations involved with this intricate system are now in the past, after Ocula joined MyHealth1st (owned by ASX-listed 1st Group) in 2018. It now counts itself among the 70% of independent optometry practices across Australia and New Zealand that use the health digital portal.

The alliance means its three practices now have a simple online booking process, but the company has also expanded on the range of services to include patient recall system EasyRecall, after-appointment feedback system EasyEngage and, most recently, MyHealth1st’s managed digital advertising services.

MyHealth1st’s OnlineAppointments is a fully integrated online booking platform that allows instant booking and real time availability. If patients cancel an appointment, that spot becomes instantly available in the practice schedule, with no manual input required.

Since enlisting MyHealth1st, Ocula has seen close to 2,000 online bookings, including 884 new patients, across its three practices.

“Before we came to MyHealth1st, we were actually doing everything that they do for us. It was just taking us 10 times as long, and our staff hated us, but the ability for a patient to make an appointment online, or to be able to give instant feedback about their experience with an optometrist, is incredibly important,” Winstone says.

Joining MyHealth1st has saved the business both time and money, she says. Whereas the practice previously had staff dedicated to IT issues with online bookings and feedback, the number of new bookings has more than paid for itself.

Ocula considers itself a proactive optometry practice, so implementing online bookings is only part of the plan. The Christchurch practice recently contracted MyHealth1st for digital marketing to drive more patients through the door.

Winstone says Ocula previously spent large sums of money with digital agencies, but it’s been difficult to get them to understand what the business is trying to sell. It’s measure of success comes down to patient bookings, as opposed to click rates and impressions.

With MyHealth1st managing Ocula’s digital advertising campaigns, Winstone said there was an immediate difference, with new bookings increasing at the Christchurch practice.

Mr Klaus Bartosch, CEO and co-founder of 1st Group, says while digital agencies may understand how to sell a t-shirt online, many don’t understand how to sell an appointment.

“One major advantage MyHealth1st has over digital agencies when it comes to healthcare advertising is that we understand independent healthcare. Our team understands that in most cases you’re not trying to sell a product, and there is no impulse buy when it comes to healthcare. Increased traffic is all well and good, but without conversions to bookings, that traffic is all but pointless,” he says.

Bartosch says the MyHealth1st team can deliver results for optometry practices like Ocula by identifying keywords and targets that are most likely to convert into a patient, and then integrating these campaigns seamlessly within the booking platform.

“We don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to advertising, so each campaign, and each ad in that campaign is individually crafted and optimised to ensure the best, most cost-effective outcomes,” he adds.

During a two-month period up until September, Ocula’s digital marketing with MyHealth1st resulted in 83 new patients booking appointments, for an overall cost per booking of $19.46 per new patient. Winstone says when considering the return on investment “the numbers speak for themselves”.

She now plans to roll out the advertising services to Ocula Queenstown. Due to COVID-19, the economy of the tourist town has suffered, leaving the practice with fewer bookings.

“But I’d like to at least give it a shot and know that we’re trying our hardest to get patients in the door, and I believe our relationship with MyHealth1st will help that,” she says.

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