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Bringing a new associate optometrist into your practice is an excellent way to boost revenue, if you have enough patient demand.
Here are some thoughts about how to get a new doctor busy once they join you.
When to bring in a new doctor
Before I present tips on how to promote the new doctor, consider that nothing makes for a successful association like being busy in the first place. Insufficient patient demand is often at the core of all kinds of disagreements and disappointments. Consider these points before seeking another doctor.
- Delegate first. Add more technicians before adding a doctor so you are working at a high level of production. Acquire automated instrumentation and design your procedures so technicians do most of the data collection in pretesting.
- Get busy. A reasonable goal might be for a single OD to see about 25 patients in an eight hour day (a mixture of all types of visits, but mostly comprehensive exams). If you are booked with that volume for about two weeks in advance, you will benefit from an associate.
- Change internal operations before the associate joins you. The system a doctor starts with is what he or she will consider normal. (For the rest of this article I will alternate between male and female pronouns for the sake of simplicity.) It is not likely that the doctor will want to increase production or patient flow unless there is a big incentive to do so. It is best to make most changes that you want to make before bringing in an associate.
Do you want the new doctor to see your patients?
We don't see this issue addressed much, but I think it is a major stumbling block for associateships. In many cases, the senior doc does not really know the answer to the question above. There are all kinds of possible dynamics and emotions at play, but if the practice owner is not sure of where the new doc's patients will come from, trouble will ensue. In my opinion, the right answer is yes, the senior doc should want many of his patients to move to the new OD.
Consider these points:
- Many senior ODs don't really want to share the patient base. The subliminal reasoning may be that they worked hard for their following and it feels pretty good to be wanted by so many people.
- If the new doctor's pay is heavily based on production or a percentage of revenue, then the senior doc can be in a quandary. If he actively moves patients to the associate, he'll have to pay more to the new doctor and subsequently will reduce his own net income.
- Patient loyalty is job security for the independent OD and it can feel scary to let it go. Of course, you aren't really letting it go; it's staying with your practice.
- Many patients feel more like personal friends and it can be uncomfortable to think about not seeing them again.
- A restrictive covenant is very important to facilitate the transfer of patients without a business risk.
- There is a tendency to just drift along with no plan if the practice owner is not sure.
- It is very difficult for a new OD to build a following all by herself in the shadow of a well-established and successful practitioner. It is likely that there will not be enough cash flow increase to support the new doctor.
- The senior doctor is smart to try to build a system that does not depend on her. Develop loyalty to the practice - not to the person.
Here are some smart policies you can implement that will get the new doctor busier:
- The senior OD should reduce his patient care schedule by one or two days per week. This creates a bigger backlog in patient demand which will create an incentive for some (not all) patients to accept a more convenient and sooner appointment with the associate.
- A side benefit of reducing the senior doc's clinical schedule is that she can spend more time on practice management, which is critical at this time of growth.
- Train the front desk staff to try to move patients to the new doctor. They should at least offer an appointment with the new doctor and not assume the patient wants to stay with the previous OD. This effort should be made gently as a suggestion, but a skilled staff person can make a huge difference. Often times, the receptionists are never even told what the plan is! Who should new patients go to first? What about established patients?
- Of course, patients who have a preference for a certain doctor should have that wish honored. And the receptionist should always be clear over the phone about which doctor the patient is scheduled to see.
- Train receptionists to "sell" the new doctor. Simply telling a caller that the new doctor is very nice and everyone really likes her is often enough. It is effective to add that the patient can see the new doctor this time and can always revert back to the other doctor the next time. We have our new ODs examine our staff right away; then the staffer can say: "Dr. Jones is great; she is my eye doctor!"
- All patients calling for emergency same day exams can be appointed with the new doctor. No choice is available in these cases.
- Consider positioning the associate as a specialist in certain areas, and having the senior doc "refer" his patients. The specialty area could be dry eyes, glaucoma, bifocal contact lenses, binocular vision or any other.
- The senior doctor could introduce the associate to many of his patients, just as a friendly gesture.
- The associate could participate in some aspect of each patient's care, even though the senior doc is still the primary provider. The new doctor could perform pretesting or just the refraction, and the other doctor then takes over. This allows the patient to work with the new doctor and sets up a possible future transition.
- While I would normally not advocate an optometrist handle optical dispensing duties, I see nothing wrong with a new associate "hanging out" in optical to introduce himself to patients who drop in and performing some basic optical services, perhaps with an optician as backup.
The addition of an associate is a strong marketing opportunity for the practice since it signals growth and positive change to the community. Here are some ideas for promoting the new associate:
- Newspaper announcement with the new doctor's photo and short bio.
- Direct mail announcements.
- The associate can visit other professionals to promote referrals
- Involvement in community organizations
- Consider having the new OD start a specialty that has not been offered before. Low vision, sports vision or vision therapy are possibilities. Then, promote the new specialty.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
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Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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