Optometric Management Tip # 489   -   Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Raising fees: Why it’s important even with vision plans

Most of the optometric practices I analyze need to raise fees, yet practice owners are extremely reluctant to do so.  Staff members echo that fear.  I realize that the economy is still very shaky, but most practices have not implemented a fee increase in well over a year and even when they did, it was too little, too late.

Optometrists routinely undervalue their services.  Just look at a few other fields as a guide to relative value. Have you had a plumber come to your house lately?  Do you know what dentists charge for a routine cleaning and x-rays?  Have you experienced lawyer fees?  For female readers: what do you pay for a “cut and color” at the hair salon?  I rest my case.

What is your worry?
Most eye care professionals (ECPs) worry they will lose patients if they raise fees, yet if you think back to the last time you actually implemented a fee increase; you will likely agree that the vast majority of patients do not even notice.  Eye care services in independent private practice are just not very price sensitive.  Patients come to you because they trust you and want the best eye care; price is secondary.

Even if you lost a small percentage of patients, which I highly doubt, most practices would still make a greater profit with a moderate fee increase.  Anything wrong with that?

Think of a fee increase as market research.  Implement it and monitor the reaction.  Ask your staff if patients make any comment in the first week or two.  See if you can detect any dip in sales or appointments.  The great thing about running a small business is that you can make changes very easily and quickly.  If you detect a strongly negative response to a fee increase, you can always just move them back to the old fee levels.  How much harm can you do in two weeks?  Virtually none.

Why do it if vision plans dominate?
In many cases, practice owners don't bother to raise fees because they reason that vision plan payments are fixed anyway, so it will not make much difference.  My response to that logic is: then why not raise them?  Who will care?  Most of your patients won't be affected by the increase anyway so it is extremely safe to do it.  But there are two very good reasons why you should raise fees even with strong participation in vision plans.

Customer service can improve
When you increase your exam fees, you will find that customer service can also improve.  You and your staff will develop a mental attitude that allows you to be more generous and creates a feeling of letting the patient have his way.  As much as some practices try, you really can't have great customer service and low fees.  The high fee – great service combination will generate an upward business cycle for your practice.  The new emphasis on customer service creates more patient demand through loyalty and word of mouth referral.  The strong patient demand will allow you to raise fees again because there is always a market for the best.  The increased revenue from higher fees will allow you to invest in your practice, creating more competitive advantages.

Best wishes for continued success,

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