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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor September 5, 2007 - Tip #293 
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Why speed up if you don't have the patients?

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Last week's tip made the point that patients might actually like it if eye exams were quicker. With efficient office operations, delegation to staff and the use of automated instruments, eye care providers actually have considerable control over exam length and therefore, daily productivity.

Sadly, many eye care providers don't see any value in being more efficient because they don't have enough patient demand in the first place. These doctors feel there is no point in speeding things up because if they did, they would just run out of patients. There would be no increase in revenue.

They couldn't be more wrong. These docs don't get it and they are missing out on one of the most powerful management strategies in existence.

Time management

I strongly recommend that doctors restructure their appointment schedules to see more patients per day by reducing the length of each appointment slot. Of course, I don't want you to run behind schedule, so you must make appropriate changes in your exam routine. Start by looking for ways to delegate, shorten, speed up or eliminate some of the exam procedures you usually perform.

In short, I recommend that you see the same number of patients you currently see per week, but see them in fewer days. For example, if you generally see patients four and a half days per week, see that same number in three and a half days. Yes, this could require an investment in another employee and possibly in additional instrumentation, but there is no investment that will produce a greater return.

The appointment slots in my practice are all 15 minutes in length. It doesn't matter if it's a comprehensive exam or a contact lens follow-up or a glaucoma workup. This system has the added benefit of making scheduling very easy for my receptionists and it prevents holes in my schedule because we couldn't find the right type of exam to fill a slot. If you're concerned that you will run behind, just place some block outs in the schedule to keep you on track.

Just to be clear, if you reduce the number of patient care days I believe you should still keep the office open on the other weekdays during normal business hours. It's best if you still come into the office for administrative work, but your staff should keep it open even if you're not present.

Reasons to compress patients

Here are some reasons why you should practice efficiently even if you're not that busy.
  • Your time is valuable. Organize it, manage it and conserve it. Having large blocks of time for a task is more efficient than several little bits of time here and there.
  • Bringing forward even one additional patient per day from the future will result in more net income.
  • Use the free time to work on building your practice. Come to your office on that new free day you created and work on management and marketing projects.
  • Get out in the community and get involved. Join a community service organization.
  • You will make your practice appear to be busier and more successful on the days you see patients. That does wonders for your image. Patients marvel when they see a busy practice that's well run. They tell others about it.
  • Patients like eye exams to be quicker and they are impressed with automated instruments and the use of technicians.
  • No shows and cancellations won't drive you nuts.
  • Act as you mean to go. Your practice will be ready as patient demand grows.
Act as you mean to go

I can't stress enough how important the principle of "act as you mean to go" is to practice building. It means that you think and behave now in the manner that would someday be necessary if you reach your goals.

Most practitioners say they will hire more staff as soon as they get busier. And the same reasoning goes for buying an automated instrument or moving to a larger office. But waiting leaves their future development to pure chance and it's highly unlikely that they will ever become really busy or really successful. Develop the mindset that goes with a large and successful practice even before it's large and successful.

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.
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