Optometric Management Tip # 75   -   Wednesday, June 25, 2003
How to build volume quickly?

A reader wrote to me saying that she had recently opened a new practice and asked if I had any "gems" to help grow the patient base faster.

Ironically, she was already doing everything right.

She selected a practice location in a rapidly growing community. The office is open 4 days/week with convenient hours. Her focus is on high quality service and excellent patient care in a nice atmosphere with reasonable fees.

The practice is growing each month, but there are still many openings in the schedule. While she does not have a huge budget for media exposure, she is very involved in the community. She contacts new moves in the community via mailers, participates in fundraisers and events with the chamber of commerce, school system and local businesses. The practice sends out a very nice pre-appointment welcome package and post-op welcome letters. Patients are called after dispensing to make sure they are comfortable and thank you notes are sent whenever a referral is received.

The practice is receiving regular referrals from existing patients, plus some traffic from their website, and from insurance plans, although the doctor is targeting "fee for service" patients and trying to not rely too heavily on insurance plans.

Here are a few more ideas:

Word of mouth referral is the main way private optometric practices are built. And all the things this doctor is doing will help cultivate that. It does take time, but it grows exponentially for the first few years. After year one, the practice will start to see recalled patients in addition to the new patients it attracts. Of course the recall system must be in place now - and reasons for the return visit must be explained to each patient.

I believe in reinvesting into the practice each year, even if funds are a little tight. Develop a plan to bring in a new instrument, add technology, or expand the frame inventory with a new frame line. Talk up these new developments to patients in the office and through a newsletter.

Try dropping in to meet the other doctors in the area and ask for referrals and leave some cards. Of course, referrals can go both ways, so ask what kind of cases that doctor would like to see. Consider retinal specialists as potential sources for low vision and refraction patients.

If you still have free time, see if there is a nursing home in the area you could visit and provide care to the residents. And consider buying out the practice of a retiring OD in the area - especially if there is a small practice that might be very affordable. Just buying the patient records alone and sending a welcome letter to transfer them to your office can yield a nice jump in volume. Try to get the selling OD to write the letter on his/her stationary.

One good thing about having some free time in the patient schedule is that the doctor can work on customer service and patient polices (with staff). Remember that marketing is identifying and satisfying patient's wants and needs. This can be done one-on-one in the office by offering caring touches and by making the visit and examination process go beyond the expected. As I always say in my management lectures: "Satisfied patients don't refer their friends.... Enthusiastic ones do!"

Best wishes for continued success,

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