Article Date: 12/1/2008

Market Yourself to Reap Dry Eye Rewards
Building a Profitable Dry Eye Practice

Market Yourself to Reap Dry Eye Rewards

Perception is key, so sell your services, not your products.

By William J. Nolan

Your challenge every day is to provide your patients with the best vision care possible. But you're also running a business, perhaps even a large business. A center of excellence in dry eye can aid your practice from a clinical and a business standpoint. Here's some advice to help you succeed.

Refer and Return

What are the two things you want every single patient in your practice to do? Return and refer. It may surprise you to learn that the most challenging goal in 21st century eye care isn't getting referrals, it's getting patients to come back.

Patients aren't very loyal. In the United States, patients buy eye care every 20 to 24 months on average. In 20 to 24 months, many things happen in the marketplace — most of which involve marketing that's designed to take your patients to someone else's practice. If patients leave your office after an extraordinary experience, they may tell others about it, but that doesn't guarantee that they'll come back to you in 20 months.

The best way to make sure they return is to do one thing very well: solve their problem.

About 2400 people present to the average solo practitioner in the United States, but most don't walk in with a whole list of problems. Ask patients how they use their eyes. Inquire about their hobbies and what they do at work. This discussion will help paint a picture of the patient's problem.

If you diagnose a problem, such as dry eye, and you solve it, patients will remember you. But if you don't solve it, they'll likely take their business elsewhere.

Make an Impression

Eyecare practitioners are in the business of making an impression on new patients and managing this impression in existing ones. You want people to see that you're the provider of choice in the marketplace, so they'll refer others and return. Consider these tips to help create the right perception for patients.

Welcome: People think you're going to sell them eyeglasses. Start dispelling that myth right away with your greeting. Try this:

"Mary, welcome to the office. I'm Dr. Nolan. Before we get started, because you're a new patient, I want to explain how we're going to take care of you today. Before you arrived today, I ordered some tests for you. You did those tests with my assistant Barb, and you and I will review the results of those tests in a minute. Then, we'll continue with some other tests in the exam room. When we're all done, I'll recommend solutions for your visual problems.

"The second and most important thing I do as your doctor is perform a complete internal, external and systemic evaluation of the health of your eyes. Nothing affects your quality of life like healthy eyes. If you have any questions as we go along, please stop and ask me."

You might think you don't have time to say this repeatedly all day, but it's worth it. Providing this foundation will show patients that you're a doctor and you're taking care of their overall health and well-being. They'll realize that you're not their father's optometrist.

Explain: How many times have you put on your miner's hat and spent the exam saying only the same basic lines over and over. "Mary, look at the corner of the room." "Is your vision better here or here?" Tell Mary what you're going to do before you do it. As you're doing it, explain what you're doing. Tell her what you find. For example, tell Mary, "You're a contact lens wearer. The ability to be a successful, long-term contact lens wearer is contingent upon having healthy corneas. The cornea has five layers, and this microscope magnifies the cornea about 50 times, so I can see all five of those layers." Now, tell her what you see. "Your cornea is clear. Everything is very healthy. You'll be able to wear your contacts successfully long term."

Hook: Also explain why you want to do all of this again next year — not in 20 to 24 months — and have patients fill out a reminder postcard.

Don't sell: Your optician is selling frames. You're prescribing solutions to patients' ocular health and vision problems. Whether a patient has dry eye or wants to get rid of her eyeglasses, those recommendations must come from you.

These steps will help boost your patients' perception of you, which will improve your return and referral rates. And there's an added bonus. When you present yourself as an exceptional practitioner, patients are more likely to follow your recommendations, and compliance equals better results and happier patients.

Profit

Why is medical optometry profitable? In the case of dry eye, it's because there's a large pool of patients — including your existing patients — and there's not much additional cost to you, if any. There are, however, opportunities for you to charge patients.

In the average solo practice, chair time costs $80 to $90 an hour. So if you see a patient for 15 minutes, the overhead load against that time in the exam room is between $20 and $25. A traditional practice has a contribution margin between 50% and 55%. With medical optometry, you'll increase that contribution percentage to 60% to 65%, meaning you can increase your bottom line by 10% to 15% on every dollar you generate. Consequently, your dry eye therapy center can add 20% to 30% more net income to your bottom line, which is better than any other service for contact lenses or eye wear.

It also pays to tie your dry eye therapy center into the sales of artificial tears or solutions. In a good optometric practice with 25% of patients who present with dry eye conditions and a 75% compliance rate, you'll find approximately 56 new patients each month, who'll generate about $3,000 a month of added revenue in tears alone. Without any real overhead, these profits go right to the bottom line. And the strategy continues to enhance patients' perception that you're the doctor who solves their problems.


Mr. Nolan is vice president of the Williams Group in Lincoln, Neb., a company that specializes in providing productivity solutions to optometric practices.

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Optometric Management, Issue: December 2008