Article Date: 7/1/2011

Do You Need More Patients?
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Do You Need More Patients?

Here's how to best take advantage of revenue-generating opportunities.

Gary Gerber, O.D.

Doctors call consultants for help for many reasons. During my company's discovery process, we usually hear a theme or variation of this common theme: “Business is slow, patient volume is less than it's been in a long time, and fees are continually getting slashed.”

From here, we'll ask, “What do you think the solution is?”

A total of 90% respond, “I need MBIC, or more butts in the chair. If I had more patients, business wouldn't be as slow, volume would be up, and I could cope with lowered fees.”

Probing further about practice dreams and life goals we ask, “So, if we could wave a magic wand and tomorrow you had 1,000 times the patient volume you have now, would that make you happy?”

Most say, “Well yeah, but I'm not so sure about 1,000 times. I don't want to be that busy.”

Is the answer more patients?

At the core of that response is one of the key issues facing optometric profitability. Namely, putting all your practice-building focus into getting more patients. The key problem the practitioner is facing is lack of money—not necessarily lack of patients. Yes, more new patients would likely increase revenues—although with careful analysis, not always as much as established patients. However, when all energies and resources are directed toward the “new patient” goal, the real brass ring of collecting more money is hard to attain.

In this case, the doctor is missing two important revenue-generating opportunities. First, if his true mission is to create more revenue, then raising his fees is one solution. While this can be challenging for practices accepting a lot of insurance plans, it is not impossible. Carefully evaluating individual plan profitability together with chair costs, and jettisoning low-playing plans can have the same effect as raising fees. Alternatively, carefully monitoring and raising when possible, product fees for items, such as contact lenses and eyeglasses, can raise fees as well.

Next, the doctor could leverage his current patient base. Offering new and unique services and products to the same base of current patients boosts revenues. This isn't about “upselling,” it's about “right selling.” In our experience, when doctors continually offer the best solutions and care to their patients, they make more money. It really is that linear.

Finally, he could look at patients through large chunks of time. To that end, it makes sense to work on an office environment that supports a culture of return visits. If he sees the exact same number of patients each year, and he never raises his fees, but sees them sooner vs. later (eg., every 12 months vs. 18 months), he'll instantly increase profits. Instead of giving lip service to his recall system, he should view it as the life-blood of his practice. Also, frequent communication with current patients must be the rule, not the exception.

Shorten the time

Think about what would happen if all your current patients presented for an eye exam and bought glasses every single day. Your cash drawer would literally overflow. The same goes for most practices if patients returned every week or even every month. Shortening the time between purchases is usually the easiest thing to fix, yet the most overlooked.

So, the next time you see a lot of holes in your appointment book, or there's an echo in your reception area, don't reflexively think, “I need more patients.” Fight the urge, and reposition your thoughts as, “I need more money.” OM


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2011