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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor June 15, 2005 - Tip #178 
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Spend 15 Minutes in Your Optical


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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. It's natural for us to gravitate to the aspects of practice that we enjoy and for most ODs that's 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. We're utilizing more advanced clinical instrumentation than ever before. We're 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 don't 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 don't view eyeglasses as trivial, but rather complex and valuable medical devices that happen to have a fashion component. Yet, it's 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. It's 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 it's 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, I'm pretty sure that your optical is not getting 50% of your attention.

Truthfully, optical doesn't need 50% of your attention and that's the beauty of it - 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%. I'm just never sure if that's because he's 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.
  • How big of an area in square feet is devoted to frame selection and eyeglass delivery?
  • How many work stations are available? How many patients can be doing a frame selection, adjustment or pick-up at the same time?
  • Does it look and feel like there are many choices of frame styles for you, if you were a patient?
  • How long has the basic layout of furnishings looked like it does now? How long have the posters and other merchandising materials been there? Do they look pristine and upscale?
  • How is the quality of merchandising on shelves and tables? Is there a lot of merchandising and brand awareness? Are there attractive props? Does it feel like Nordstrom's or more like Sears... or even K-mart?
  • Is the optical impeccably clean, or is there dust on the shelves and counter cards? Is there dirt on the floor in the corners? Is there clutter on work surfaces?
  • Is there a feeling like the optical is utilitarian, like a workshop to measure PDs and seg heights rather than a showroom to transform someone's personal appearance?
  • Are there empty holes on the frame displays, where frames have been pulled?
  • Do the frame displays and tables look like beautiful furniture? Is there any yellowed plastic? Is Formica the main material?
  • Are fluorescent lights used in frame displays or in overall illumination? Are any bulbs burned out?
  • Are the table mirrors old-fashioned looking?
  • Is there any evidence of high-tech... like a flat screen TV displaying educational videos or a computerized mirror/camera station?
The correct answers to the above questions are obvious. Don't 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 - 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,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week


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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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