Article Date: 9/1/2007

Rethink Your OPTICAL and REV-UP Your Practice

Rethink Your OPTICAL and REV-UP Your Practice

You too can reap the rewards of a well-designed optical.

MICHELLE BOYLES, Managing editor

Drawing patients into the dispensary is one of the biggest challenges for any independent practice. And deciding how to do that can be just as daunting. But, creating an inviting optical dispensary can bring you many rewards, not the least of which is a 12% to 20% increase in revenue, according to your colleagues. Here, we'll look at some of the ways you can make your office and dispensary more attractive to patients.

Consider the subject

"A more efficient office with a professional feel generates patient trust," says Alan Glazier, O.D., of Shady Grove Eye & Vision Care in Rockville, Md. So, general practice flow is key among the many considerations in drawing patients in to your dispensary. "Workflow improves with a design that maximizes patient flow and improves the ergonomic aspects of the business," says Dr. Glazier, who consulted with his staff in the redesign of his practice. "It's important to get the opinions of those with whom you work. They see the same space through different eyes and can often point out important changes," he says. "Also, the front of the office is where they work, and having that space ergonomically designed for them makes their input important."

The open floor plan of Yankee Eye Clinic's optical allows patients a view into the dispensary as they enter the office.

Dr. Russell Osnes of the Yankee Eye Clinic in Rosemount, Minn., didn't want the reception area of his new practice to be "Grand-Central station," so he created separate front-desk and check-out areas. "The front desk area is simply a greeting desk, much like a concierge. There is a separate check-out area for patients when they have completed their visit. This keeps the front desk from becoming chaotic."

Location, location, location

Dr. Osnes used an open floor plan for his practice's reception area to allow patients a view the optical as soon as they enter the office. "We wanted to emphasize the optical area and make it a larger and more inviting space," he says. He even had a fireplace installed to create a warm, comfortable atmosphere, which he says is great for cold Minnesota winters. Dr. Dirk Massie of Performance Eyecare in Swansea, Ill., also features a fireplace plus a stocked coffee bar.

Optometrist Jacqueline Campisi, of Visions Sight & Learning Center in Mystic, Conn., says the most outstanding part of her Egyptian-themed practice is the pyramid-shaped waiting area and domed ceiling of the optical boutique (right). "A floor-to-ceiling mural of a doorway peering out at the desert backdrop from the pyramid catches patients' eyes as they approach the reception area," she says. "Wall sconces produce a low amber glow, as if the pyramid were lit by torches, and frame displays are made from imported Egyptian furnishings." The location of Dr. Campisi's practice was key to her success. Situated in the lower corner of a medical complex, the practice has 40-feet of window frontage facing a Starbucks.

Keep displays uncluttered and in the overall theme of the office.

Dr. Osnes' optical also features high ceilings with curved fixtures, hanging accent lighting and lots of space. "The traffic pattern is very efficient," he says. "The optical frame boards, furniture, fixtures and lighting create an inviting area for our opticians to fulfill our patients' eyewear needs."

Your use of negative space can really make an impact as well. "Avoid piles on the floor behind the dispensing desk. Displays should reflect a professional and clean appearance at all times," says Dr. Glazier. He also suggests choosing easy-to-clean displays with plenty of storage space.

High ceilings and soft lighting invite patients into Dr. Campisi's optical boutique.

Fill a niche

Look at your patient population to determine whether you might take advantage of their interests and needs. Dr. Campisi knew she had a large, young client base in her area. "Our name was derived as a learning center because we wanted to establish the connection between vision and learning. Our vision therapy (VT) niche grew rapidly as word spread about the uniqueness of our office," she says.

You need only look at your local toy store to see the successful branding of child-oriented products from coloring books to computer games. The VT niche appeals to parents, but you can also appeal to your child patients. A soccer- or princess-themed display will draw their attention. "Photo software permits us to photograph the children in their Barbie or Sponge Bob Square Pants eyewear so they can take home a souvenir of their visit," says Dr. Campisi.

Making your displays interactive is another great way to entice patients. Dr. Glazier has several plasma-screen televisions showing patient education videos. He says this creates a "hightech feel. Dr. Campisi took a similar approach. "In each of the pretest areas, both exam rooms, the contact lens area and optical, Eyemaginations software explains the value of each test and plays custom media on our practice," she says.

Dr. Glazier suggests placing the optical near a window and angling the table toward a window, so the patient can look out. "This helps them appreciate their new prescription and/or makes it easier to demonstrate the benefits of polarization, AR coatings, etc."

Deck the walls

"The warmly painted walls are lined with Egyptian art and articles about the practice," says Dr. Campisi. Dr. Glazier's pretest areas feature interesting wall art that acts as a conversation piece, "to break the ice between technicians and patients," he says.

"We have a lot of golfing patients so we designed our new office to have the feel of a golfcourse clubhouse," says Dr. Massie. Between Dr. Massie's reception area and dispensary lies a putting green (right) that patients use while waiting or when they arrive with family members.

Make it count

"Every time we have expanded and redesigned, we have seen an immediate benefit in terms of gross growth," says Dr. Glazier, proving that word-of-mouth is a powerful referral tool. But, he adds, "It doesn't particularly attract new patients unless you parallel the redesign with an external-marketing campaign."

Hanging accent lights and curved ceilings highlight Dr. Osnes' dispensary.

Part of Dr. Campisi's marketing efforts extended to her VT patients, but the office's Egyptian theme brings in other types of patients. The practice's logo is based on the Eye of Horus, the Egyptian symbol for health protection and restoration.

"A full-sized [recreation] sarcophagus of King Tut stands in the 20-feet of window frontage. He's flanked by designer eyewear," she explains. "The Egyptian goddess Ma'at is framed in stained glass in a dormer facing the parking area in order to draw attention from passersby."

Dr. Massie provides his golfing patients with a free sleeve of golf balls that carry the practice's logo.

Dr. Massie and his in-office putting green.

Reaping the rewards

"With a redesign, expect to see a greater than 12% increase in gross revenues, commonly resulting in an increase of 20% or greater," says Dr. Glazier. All the O.D.s with whom we spoke saw an increase in both patients and revenue. Dr. Osnes saw a 12% increase in patients and a 17.5% increase in revenue after his redesign.

Dr. Campisi's results: "Before the expansion, we had shown a steady 10%/year profit increase," she says. "We expect our investment to increase sales 20% this year."

"The increase in gross revenues can translate into increased profitability immediately. Patient surroundings are a large part of their perception of the care they receive," says Dr. Glazier. "The more care you put into your décor, the greater the dividends in terms of competitive advantage." OM

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2007