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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor October 31, 2007 - Tip #301 
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If patients perceive your practice as behind the times, serious consequences will follow that can stunt practice growth. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to be completely unaware of that perception. Practice owners and staff members work in the office every day so they become accustomed to the environment and to the procedures and it's difficult to see things objectively. I see many eye care offices that are out of date in my opinion, but the owner has no idea.

The Inertia

One major reason why offices fall behind is because redecorating and refurnishing is painful in many ways. The cost can run quite high, finding reliable contractors is difficult, coordinating the work and not letting it interfere with patient flow is a concern, and finding the time to make the decisions may seem impossible. With all that, it's easy to put off the thought process of redecorating and develop a mental block. We rationalize that maybe no one will notice how old the furnishings are, or maybe the carpeting is really not that bad, or we hope that the public still finds that old color scheme attractive. We put the project off for awhile and months turn into years.

Take heed: if you even think that maybe your office decor could be slightly out of date, it's most likely seriously out of date. As painful as the redecorating or re- equipping process is, taking no action is worse. The lost revenue from missed opportunities of word of mouth referrals and patients who quietly go elsewhere can be huge, but invisible. We don't notice what we're missing. The practice does not die immediately, but it stagnates. Patients aren't horrified at the conditions; they're just primed to be attracted to other eye care providers who appear more progressive or more caring.

General Decor

A good way to start your analysis is to sit in your reception/waiting area. Look at everything from the patient's point of view. Realize that patients make sweeping generalizations about the technical aspects of your practice based on the small things they understand. Consider these points:
  • Furniture should be attractive, clean, new-looking and sturdy. People prefer to sit in chairs more than sofas.
  • A new coat of paint in a fresh, updated color works wonders at a small cost.
  • Adding chair rails, crown molding, new baseboard and trim can provide an attractive decorating effect.
  • New window coverings.
  • New carpeting and tile.
  • New lamps and light fixtures.
  • Installing a granite countertop at a key place creates a focal point.
  • A wall-mounted flat screen television is not the huge expense it once was.
Optical Area

How do you know when your optical displays need to be replaced? There really is no clear signal. They will not fall off the wall. But at some point the displays really should be removed from the walls and tossed in the dumpster! Investing in furniture-quality displays and halogen lighting will increase sales. The cost may be substantial, but the return will be far greater. The dispensing tables, showcases, shelf units and chairs should all be beautiful and tasteful. Redecorating in the optical reduces Rx walkout, stimulates sales of high-end products and creates purchases of multiple pairs of glasses. This point is proven in the retail industry; Nordstrom's does not rip out and replace displays without a good return on investment.

Instrumentation

Patients judge your professional services by how they perceive your equipment. Everyone has seen phoroptors and slit lamps for the past 100 years and they really haven't changed much from the patient's point of view. New technology in the clinic area creates a competitive advantage and stimulates practice growth. What instrument have you added lately to your exam routine that makes patients say wow? What would be next on your priority list?
  • Digital visual acuity monitors instead of eye chart projectors. The bang for the buck here is quite high.
  • Digital retinal cameras with images displayed in the exam room.
  • Corneal topography performed yearly as part of the contact lens evaluation.
  • Automated visual field screeners.
  • Computerized refraction systems.
  • Nerve fiber analyzers.
  • A new chair and stand.
  • A new refraction desk or built-in counter.

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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