On September 10, 2012
By now you no doubt have heard a phrase that seems to have become common lately, that “businesses will do well when they are doing good.” As cliché as they may be, refrains like this become popular because they are often so true. One way eyecare professionals can do well is through the expansion of their patient base – and one way to accomplish this is to “do good” for a new community by participating in health fairs.
Expanding the patient base is critical in maintaining the health of any eye care practice – and one of the easiest ways to reach new patients is to approach communities that are underserved. Working with underserved populations will not only provide exposure to a new market, but will also likely result in extended customer loyalty for the first practice to enter the market with a service. Of course, the reason why there has been little competition until now for these communities – usually new immigrant or minority communities – is that they are often hard to reach. However, it must be understood that “hard to reach” is often more a result of perception than reality.
Overcoming the perception of a community being hard to reach is often an exercise in cultural competence, where understanding the potential patients’ cultural and linguistic considerations can help eyecare professionals penetrate a new community.
Overcoming the reality of a population being hard to reach is more often centered around issues of trust – and generating trust is all about establishing relationships. In part, these relationships can be established by developing the minimal cultural competence needed to understand new patients. However, participation in health fairs can become a basic strategy to quickly establish relationships with populations that are traditionally very hard to reach because one thing that successful health fairs have in common is that they are executed by organizations that have earned the trust and respect of the communities they are trying to serve. By being a part of events of this type, businesses are able to reap the benefit of this trust.
Increasing a practice’s exposure now is more important when we take into account the probability of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The impending effects of the ACA will result in more people being either insured or being brought out from under-insurance. For children, in particular, vision screenings are supposed to be a preventive service that must be covered without having to pay a copayment or meet a deductible.
Up until now, the economic reality for many in these communities has been that few members have had access to health care, let alone access to insurance that also pays for eye exams. And, since visual problems are usually not accompanied by severe pain, and can often be relieved by the purchase of inexpensive reading glasses at the local pharmacy, there has been little incentive to be proactive in seeking help. Now, however, the ACA’s greater emphasis on wellness and health screenings will not only result in more people getting insurance that includes vision care, but it will also increase the number of people who will eventually be diagnosed with many of the chronic illnesses that tend to affect minority populations. Many of these illnesses, such as diabetes, demonstrate a co-morbidity that severely affects vision health, particularly in older adults.
Also – though it is always dangerous to generalize, and of course everyone finds family important – as a rule, one of the cultural hallmarks of many hard-to-reach populations, especially new migrants, is that they tend to be very much focused on family, and more especially on the children. So, while adults might have little problem in ignoring their own vision health, they are certainly interested in ensuring that their children have access to eye exams. In my experience, Latinos certainly fit this mold.
Organizers of health fairs are not difficult to find. Health fairs are usually coordinated through local health departments, safety-net hospitals, and/or hospital foundations. Indeed, almost any hospital that has undertaken a community assessment will likely be an organizer – or at the very least a partner – of a community health fair. The websites of county or city health departments are also good sources of information.
Outreach efforts in the context of community health fairs can provide critical exposure for your practice in communities that have little experience with issues of vision care. Your participation in these events can be instrumental in establishing the types of relationships that are critical in expanding and maintaining a new patient base. As a practice that was there from the very beginning, you will be able to reap the benefits of customer loyalty. Participation in health fairs is truly one place where your practice can do very well indeed by doing good.