Article Date: 11/1/2010

How Will I Find Patients?
From the AOSA

How Will I Find Patients?

Becoming entrenched in the community benefits you and your future patients.

By Matt Willis, Secretary, AOSA

AS A SOON-TO-BE graduate, I've heard that many optometrists share ideas on how to increase patient volume in their practice. I've been told that even if you return to your hometown — where you're well respected and known — you shouldn't count on an abundance of patients knocking on your newly opened doors. If you're joining a practice where the senior doctor is retiring, you'll have the benefit of an established patient base but existing patients may not stay with you. As I've learned from our practice management teacher, Gerald Eisenstatt, OD, 5-15% of a patient base is often lost after the purchase of a practice.

Aside from the obvious — advertising in phone books, newspapers, radio or on television — there are many ways to show the community that you care about their visual needs.

Get to Know Referral Sources

Local schools and medical offices are great places to develop relationships. Visit with school nurses, administrators, even the local parent-teacher association and let them know about the services you provide. Discuss potential vision problems that may lead to learning difficulties for children. Offer to take part in screenings at local schools or community health fairs to help educate and identify undetected vision problems.

Get to know the physicians in the community. Discuss the role an optometrist plays with conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, and let them know that you'd love to take part in the management of these patients.

Let people know you're also available for emergencies, such as acute red eye or inflammation — it beats a trip to the hospital ER.

When you refer one of your patients to a physician or a specialist, always send a referral letter before the scheduled appointment. Also, if a patient is referred to you by one of these sources, send a follow-up letter thanking the doctor for their referral and discussing the findings of your exam, says Dr. Eisenstatt.

Get Involved

The best way to grow a practice, according to most doctors I've spoken with, is to get involved in the community. When you help out with religious school, become a scout leader or coach a little league team, people are more aware of you and what you do for a living.

When you move to a community, it's important to join local organizations such as the Lions Club, Rotary or Chamber of Commerce. At my first externship, both of the doctors were involved in the community. My preceptor, C. Scott Gutshall, OD, recalled his experience as a volunteer coach for junior high football. Not only did he enjoy the experience, he also got to know many of the kids and their families — many of whom started showing up in his clinic.

Set Yourself Apart

As Brad Williams, OD, said during a seminar at our school, “don't become the best kept secret in town.” Find a way to set yourself apart from the local competition. Create a positive atmosphere in your waiting room. Perception of your whole practice can be influenced by the décor of your office, says Dr. Eisenstatt.

Consider patient demographics. Create a unique experience. Offer frame lines that no one else in town has. Provide beverages for patients in the waiting room. Buy cutting-edge technology to provide optimal care for your patients. Use social media, such as Face-book or Twitter, or send appointment reminders via text messaging. Making your mark in the community will keep you from becoming just another eye doctor in town. nOD

Matt Willis is a fourth year optometry student at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn. He received his BS in Biology from Creighton University in Omaha, NE. He currently serves as the Secretary of the AOSA. After finishing his education, he plans to seek a private practice opportunity in Nebraska. You can reach him at

Optometric Management, Issue: November 2010