Article Date: 6/1/2011

Think You Need to Hire an Associate?

Think You Need to Hire an Associate?

You may be able to absorb the patient volume yourself, make patients happier, and take home more money.

Special Section Sponsored By OD Lean

Your patient load is increasing. Maybe a partner is leaving your practice, maybe you're buying an existing practice that you want to run solo, or maybe you're just in a very fast-growing area. You could hire an associate for $80,000, but is there a way to absorb the volume and increase your take-home revenue?

When Stephen M. Pullen, OD, of Family Eyecare in Jacksonville, Fla. bought into a practice 8 years ago, the two existing partners began reducing their hours, eventually reaching the combined equivalent hours of one full-time employee. Facing their reduced hours, Dr. Pullen asked ODLean, “How can I keep the volume of a two-doctor practice with just one doctor?”

This is familiar ground for folks at ODLean, who helped Dr. Pullen become his own associate by absorbing the volume, increasing patient satisfaction and capture rates, and boosting take-home revenue. And the solution might surprise you: Create a patient-centered model.

A Faster, Better Experience

ODLean advisors first gathered data about the practice and made detailed, timed, videotaped observations of patient encounters, then they reported their analysis to Dr. Pullen. Together, they streamlined the practice by implementing a patient-centered model.

“Patients no longer wait when they come in, and we eliminated redundant pre-testing. They move through the office much more smoothly and efficiently,” explains Dr. Pullen.

ODLean also looked at the workload summary of all employees and found that Dr. Pullen was working at 110% capacity, which would lead to burnout. The rest of the staff was working at 50% to 80% capacity.

“We set a goal to distribute the workload more evenly and get everybody, including me, to 85% capacity. And that's what we've actually achieved,” Dr. Pullen says. “Now I spend my time with patients doing the things only a doctor can do—not things that staff can do. And everyone on my staff has loved it. They feel more empowered, like they have a vested interest in the patient experience.”

When Less Is More

Now Dr. Pullen is seeing all of the patients in his practice, and he, his staff—and most importantly, his patients—are happier.

“When we had two doctors, we saw about 25 patients per day, and now I see about 30 patients. I spend less time with each patient overall, but because I've delegated to my staff, I spend less time collecting data, so I can give patients more face time,” he says.

Dr. Pullen's patients offer feedback that mirrors other ODLean practices. “Patients say they're receiving excellent care and that [our practice] obviously values their time,” he says. “They say I'm very thorough, they have plenty of time with me, and they have a good experience. It's rewarding to read that.”

When More Is More

Patients are seeing Dr. Pullen for slightly less time but they're feeling extremely satisfied. But sometimes, more is more. Here are the numbers:

Gross revenue: Year over year (YOY) is averaging 5% higher than corresponding practices
Comp exams/doctor/day: up 19% vs flat to significantly down in corresponding practices
Net revenue per doctor: increased 35% vs a typical YOY change of 2.5%
Revenue per patient: +20% vs +4% for similar practices
Combined CL & spectacle capture rate: +13% vs +6% in similar practices

ODLean showed Dr. Pullen that when the overall visit is shorter, patients have time to shop. That income and the absorbed patient volume go directly toward net revenues, which are already boosted by a decreased payroll.

“When colleagues say, ‘You must be cranking people through like cattle,’ I explain to them that it's actually the exact opposite,” Dr. Pullen says. “In a patient-centered practice, I see more patients, but the experience has more value because we eliminate wasted steps. It's about delivering the best patient experience, and I consider the higher numbers a side benefit.”

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Contact Chuck Smith at (904) 443-1081 or for more information

This article is the third in a six-part series about ODLean, a new kind of consultation service offered through The Vision Care Institute. In the coming months, read about the innovative program and meet some of its nearly 100 clients.

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2011