Optometric Management Tip # 568   -   Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Evenings and Saturdays

I consult with many private practice optometrists who do not have evening or Saturday hours. Since office hours impact one's personal life, I certainly understand why doctors and staff would prefer to not work those hours. Evenings and Saturdays are often reserved for family or personal time. But the question I have to ask is... are we looking at the owner's personal life or are we looking at the business?

In many cases, the owner and the practice are tied very closely together. So much so that they feel like the same entity. But they are not the same and I urge you to separate them. As your practice grows, it is very smart to try to develop a system that does not depend too much on the doctor/owner. Build a business model where the doctor is also the CEO of a company. I would never try to make the case that the business is more important than one's personal life, but the office hours do not have to be covered by the owner or the existing staff. Let's look objectively at office hours as a business strategy and forget the personal aspect.

Practice growth and patient demand
Successful optometric practices are mostly built by word of mouth referrals by happy patients. The key to marketing a professional practice is a high level of patient satisfaction and loyalty and that is directly dependent on customer service and convenience. Many optometric practices can deliver high quality eye care, so success comes down to how easy are you to do business with? Do you have many competitive advantages compared to other eye care providers in your area?

Convenient office hours are a huge part of customer service. There are many providers open many evenings per week and Saturdays and even Sundays. Marketing is identifying and satisfying the customer's wants and needs.

Ideal office hours
I believe ideal office hours for a private optometric practice would be every weekday from 9am to 5pm plus a couple of evenings per week until at least 7pm and every Saturday from 9am to 1pm. That is at a minimum. If you can be open more late evenings and weekend hours, all the better. The office does not close during the lunch hour and is also not closed any half days or full days during the week.

I realize that small practices and start-ups can't be open all those hours. My basic plan above has the office open 48 hours per week and since you should open the doors about a half hour before the first appointment and you may not finish until a half hour after closing, you could easily be staffing for 54 hours per week. It is OK if you can't achieve those ideal hours in the early stages of a practice, but if you are trying to grow the practice, I would be working hard to reach that goal. So I would elect to be open some evenings and Saturdays and be closed on a weekday.

Misconceptions about office hours
Here are some important tips as you consider your office hours: By the way, patients who want evening and Saturday appointments are highly desirable for your practice... they are the ones who have jobs!
Best wishes for continued success,

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