SO YOU’VE been in practice maybe one, five or 10 years and have seen it grow, causing you to wonder, “Should I bring on another doctor?” As a family of four O.D.s who employ 20 other O.D.s and who have an eye on hiring more in the future, we’ve been there.
Here, we discuss the follow-up questions you should ask yourself to determine whether adding a doctor makes sense, the logistics involved in doing so and how to go about finding the “right” doctor. (The process of adding a new doctor can take significant time and resources. The last thing desired is to start over because it didn’t work in the practice’s favor.)
If you answer “yes” to either question posed below, we believe it’s time to consider hiring a new doctor.
- Does it take a long time to get an appointment with you? If it takes two weeks to book an appointment with you, it is time to hire an associate, says practice management guru Neil Gailmard, O.D. (See “Ten Tips on Adding an Associate OD: Part 1” at bit.ly/2tNgktW .) We would argue that a week is too long to wait to get an appointment. Americans live in the instant-gratification market, where patients, in some states, can get online refractions from their homes. If patients cannot be accommodated immediately, you’ll likely lose them to a practice or source that can.
- Does the business side of your practice need more attention? Do you need to cut back on clinical time to monitor your P&L statement? If you do not have someone you trust monitoring what you accrue per patient, it may be more beneficial — and profitable — to monitor it yourself. In this case, you could allow the new doctor to see patients on the days you choose to tackle administrative tasks.
If you’ve decided you should hire a new doctor, you should consider the following logistical matters.
- Expectations. Do you want to offer a path to ownership? If so, how many years do you expect the doctor to work before discussing the details of that path? If you don’t want to offer this path, let the new doctor candidate know from the get-go to preclude a tense work environment down the line. (This must be clearly defined at the time of contract.)
- Space. Are you expecting to be in the practice on the same days as the new doctor? If yes, do you have enough room? Very efficient practices require just two exam lanes per doctor. If you do not have the infrastructure or equipment in place yet, set a timeline for expansion, stick to it, and educate new doctor candidates about it, so they can see you are serious about their success in your practice.
- Doctor introduction. Will you post an announcement on social media and through mailings to your current patients? (Bonus: Some patients may view this as a gentle reminder that it is time for their annual exam.) Are you planning on reminding the new doctor that some patients may be reluctant to see him or her at first and to not take it personally? Even amongst ourselves, we have surprisingly loyal patients who will refuse to see anyone other than their “Schaeffer of choice.”
- Patient load. Are you going to have the new doctor see most walk-ins and patients who have red eyes and book same-day appointments, so he or she can get established in the practice? (Both patient types are happy to be seen regardless of the doctor.) When seeing patients who book appointments in advance, are you planning on allowing the new doctor to see patients with you for the first few weeks until the designated patient load has fully transferred over to him or her? (The important thing is transfer of care. By you introducing the new doctor, the patient feels a sense of comfort that someone else can take care of him or her, if necessary.)
Depending on the reason you brought on a new associate, your new scheduling process needs direction. If you are looking to expand and see more patients, you may not want to transition all your existing patients to a new doctor. All this does is take your existing patient base and spread it over two doctors, which increases your overhead without increasing revenue. Your new patients will be the majority of your new doctor’s patient load. If an existing patient needs a more convenient time that your new associate has available, offer that to the patient, letting him or her know he or she will be seeing another doctor.
- Staff involvement. Will you have staff ask patients whether they have a preference on which doctor they see? Also, will you task staff with reminding patients, when scheduling and confirming appointments, which doctors they will see? If the patient shows up expecting one doctor and is told that doctor isn’t in, he or she might feel disappointed in the practice’s lack of communication, which can hurt patient loyalty to a practice.
FINDING THE RIGHT DOCTOR
Now, it’s time to find someone you feel comfortable entrusting with the care of your patients. (See “Merchandising,” p.58 for more on adding a doctor.)
To accomplish this:
- Assess what the candidate can offer, in terms of practice growth opportunities. Yes, the primary reason for hiring a new doctor is to help you pick up the slack, but to get the most bang for your buck, it makes sense to hire someone who can also strengthen a particular area of the practice, such as primary care (so you can expand your own niche), or offer something new, such as specialty contact lens evaluations, pediatrics/myopia control or low vision. Discuss ahead of time with the candidate if specific clinic time will be offered to build this aspect of his or her practice. Also, develop an internal referral program for existing doctors. The easiest way to build a specialty practice is to start with your own patient base. (Be sure to visit Starklaw.org .)
- Determine whether the candidate believes in your practice’s mission statement. Does your practice have a mission statement? If you answered, “no,” get to work on that immediately. If you do not have in writing why you do what you do, how can you set expectations for a new doctor? You want to make sure that anyone you hire believes in your mission statement as much as you do. Remember: This person will be an extension of you.
In our practice, we provide case studies during the interview process to see how candidates would treat, monitor, etc. Also, we look for community involvement on resumes because giving back is such a major part of what we do at Schaeffer Eye Center.
With the right steps, including planning for and hiring the “right” new doctor, you can ensure success for all parties, including your patients. Patients have chosen your practice for a number of reasons, but ultimately, they trust their eyes are in good hands. Now, that you’ve taken all the steps necessary, they will be. OM