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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor June 15, 2011 - Tip #486 
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A New Twist on Attracting Referrals from Primary Care MDs

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I was at a conference last weekend and I was in a breakout group with some very smart and successful optometrists.  My friend, Jay Binkowitz, an astute consultant and business owner, made a comment that stuck with me.  It is a rather simple idea, but it was a new perspective on an old marketing concept.  That is the value of meeting with colleagues to share practice management strategies: invariably a new point of view is discovered that can make a huge difference in how you do things.  Then all you have to do is implement the idea and reap the benefits!

Calling on physicians
We've all heard of the concept of dropping in on the offices of physicians in the community to introduce yourself and just say hello.  This strategy is a very effective way to gain referrals of new patients but I think relatively few optometrists actually do it.  We tend to attract most of our new patients by referral from other patients.  Those word of mouth referrals are extremely valuable, of course, but if you can establish a referral pattern from a local MD, you can greatly increase your patient demand. 

Optometrists may have felt some insecurity about approaching MDs at some point in the past, but there is no reason for it anymore.  We have been diagnosing and treating eye disease for many years and most primary care MDs are more interested in clinical skills and local relationships than political battles between professions.  In my experience, physicians are quite happy to refer patients to ODs once they get to know them.  We all have many MDs who are patients, which proves the point.  We also have had drop-in visits from retinal specialists and general ophthalmologists, and we know that it goes very well and often results in more referrals from us.

Professional courtesy
The twist I heard at the conference was not rocket science and I'm sure many readers have done it, but it was an eye-opener for me.  The idea is to drop in at a physician's office and introduce yourself, handling the visit in the usual way (more on this below)... but also offer a special professional courtesy to the entire staff and physicians of 50% off your usual fees for any service or product, including exams, services, contact lenses, glasses or sunglasses.  Encourage the staff and the doctor to stop in at their convenience to browse your optical and to schedule an appointment if they need an exam.

Here is why this courtesy discount is a good idea:

  • It makes your drop-in visit easier because you have a purpose that is not self-serving.  There is a big benefit for the medical staff.
  • Many of the medical staff will take advantage of the generous offer.
  • Once the staff experiences the quality of your eye health care and begins to enjoy the attractive new eyewear, they will become loyal to your practice.
  • The receptionists and nurses talk to many people every day.  They may refer patients who need eye care and they will also simply talk to people about your office as they respond to compliments about their new glasses.

Points to consider
I don't think there is a right or wrong way to call on physicians.  Just do what comes naturally.  But here are few additional thoughts.

  • An office manager of other staff member could accompany the OD.  Gives the visit more importance and may make the conversation easier.
  • Ask to meet the physicians in the office if they have a brief moment, but also make a point to spend time and have interest in all the staff.  The nurses and receptionists may prove more valuable than the doctor for generating referrals.
  • Give a brief overview of the kinds of eye cases you would like to see - indicate that you would appreciate their referrals.  Pledge that their emergency referrals will be seen the same day.
  • Ask what kind of report letter the practice would like to receive from you.
  • Ask if the practice is open to your referrals and ask what types cases they specialize in.
  • Drop off a supply of your business cards and ask for some of theirs.
  • In addition to family practice docs, call on any medical specialty that has some relationship to eye care, such as dermatologists, pediatricians, allergists, plastic surgeons, and more.
  • Consider sending a follow-up gift if you hit it off well, such as a nice breakfast treat or fruit basket.

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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