Optometric Management Tip # 178   -   Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Spend 15 Minutes in Your Optical

Optometry has evolved very quickly, as professions go. The last 30 years have brought amazing change in scope of practice and clinical technology, and optometrists are doing an excellent job of keeping up. Itís natural for us to gravitate to the aspects of practice that we enjoy and for most ODs thatís clinical eye care. We take many CE courses in every aspect of ocular disease, and we are continually expanding our skills in diagnosis and treatment. Weíre utilizing more advanced clinical instrumentation than ever before. Weíre prescribing new contact lens materials and more complex designs. And when we focus on practice administration, a great deal of effort goes into understanding the vast unknown of medical billing and coding. The danger is that we can easily neglect a traditional mainstay that is vital to practice success: optical dispensing.

Where does optical rank with you?

It would seem ironic to an outsider, but we should acknowledge that optometrists generally donít like optical dispensing. We can trace this back to our entrance into the profession: optometry school. Most of us hated any assignment in the college dispensary; longing to be in the clinic, where the action was. The selling of a product seemed so far removed from our goal to become doctors that we actually found it a little offensive. As student idealism gave way to the real world, most ODs grew to accept optical dispensing as an important part of eye care, and we realized that our patients donít view eyeglasses as trivial, but rather complex and valuable medical devices that happen to have a fashion component. Yet, itís still very easy for optometrists to let optical dispensing drop in importance as our attention is pulled to so many other aspects of practice.

See the big picture

Let me be blunt: optical is the main factor that will separate those optometric practices that have huge revenue from those that have mediocre revenue. Itís great to try to build the medical aspect of your practice, but without optical, all you have left is exams and procedure fees. Those fees can produce a nice income if you see lots of patients, but itís nowhere near the revenue that a great optical can produce. In fact, we know that optical dispensing, not including contact lenses, typically accounts for about 50% of total practice revenue! Yet, Iím pretty sure that your optical is not getting 50% of your attention.

Truthfully, optical doesnít need 50% of your attention and thatís the beauty of it Ė most of your optical operations can be delegated to others. I firmly believe, however, that most optical departments within optometric offices need much more leadership and investment than they receive today.

I occasionally hear a doctor proudly announce that his practice revenue is largely derived from medical procedures... maybe 75%. Iím just never sure if thatís because heís doing so much medical care or so little optical! I want to tell that doctor that he may be missing out on quite a bit by turning a cold shoulder to the optical needs that are in every optometric practice. Doing medical work does not have to be at the exclusion of optical work.

An exercise on optical emphasis

Give your practice a fair and unbiased analysis by spending 15 minutes in your optical, after all staff have gone home. Turn on all the lights and displays and just walk around and observe. The correct answers to the above questions are obvious. Donít feel badly if you found that there is room for improvement in your optical; just be happy you discovered it so you can take action!

What to do next

Give your optical a makeover. Attend a major eye care convention and spend time in the exhibit hall looking at the optical side of things. Study the show displays used by the top frame companies and emulate that in your office. Think big! Remodel and redecorate or consider expanding or even moving. Hire a national optical design firm or a local commercial interior designer, or both. Meet with your staff to discuss the new emphasis on optical, and explore if anyone on staff has a flare for decorating. Plan how you can improve your merchandising and change the displays regularly.

Optical is a smart place to invest money Ė even if you have to borrow it. The goal is to eliminate optical Rx walkouts, and to sell more products to each person. The best way to do that is to make each patient want to stay and want to buy. This also makes them refer others. Let your optical do the talking for you. Since we never want to resort to sales pressure tactics in a professional office, how else can you sell?

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management