Article Date: 4/1/2012

Too Many O.D.s?
view from the top

Too Many O.D.s? Too Few Patients?

Consider illogical advice: Practice where there are many competitors.

Gary Gerber, O.D.

In the hopes of opening a new practice that can quickly attract patients, we hear many young O.D.s lament, “I can't seem to find an area that I'd like to live that doesn't already have a million optometrists. I don't want to live someplace that's off the beaten path. There really are no desirable locations left to open an office.”

With few exceptions, we reply, “Your best bet is to open where there are more doctors, not less.” You may say, “That's illogical!” But it works. Here's why:

Marketing advantages

First, patients in heavily O.D.- populated areas are inundated with eyecare-related messages. For this reason, you can market your unique selling proposition (what you offer that others don't, won't or can't) as opposed to a high-level awareness marketing campaign. For example, rather than say, “Get your eyes examined every year,” take the opportunity to say, “Here's why you should get your eyes examined every year — from me.” These patients know “what's new in contact lenses,” so to tell them why they should get new lenses from you.

Avoiding the middle of the bell

Next, bell curves exist in O.D. practice demographics just like they do in nearly everything else. It's a law of nature. That means if an area you're considering is jammed packed with doctors, most of them are probably practicing similarly in terms of size, office atmosphere, product offerings, services, technology, fees, staff and hours. Once you determine the commonalities of these practices, you can successfully practice on either side of the bell curve's fringes.

The challenge is to not let the size and resultant gravity of the middle of the bell curve pull you back toward the middle. As a result, you might turn away certain patients. For example, if your focus is “high-end, exotic, jewelry-like boutique glasses you won't find elsewhere,” resist the temptation to offer, “budget frames for cost-conscious patients.” You'll lose the “budget” patients, but you'll acquire patients who can't find your fringe offering elsewhere.

More doctors, more patients

Something else to consider: where there are lots of doctors, there are lots of happy — and not-so- happy — patients. Just like a mom-and-pop coffee shop can live off those who won't wait in line at Starbucks, an astute doctor can live off the “discards” of others.

Similarly, there's a reason there are fewer doctors in areas that are less desirable to live. It's less desirable for patients to live there too. So, searching for an area with “no optometrists” often leads to “no patients.”

Why do you often see a Verizon Wireless store next to an AT&T store, or a Pizza Hut across the street from Papa John's Pizza? Why do you see four gas stations on each corner of an intersection? It's for all of the reasons outlined above.

An old marketing story applies here: A barber struggled with a competitor who had a billboard that read, “We do $5 haircuts.” His marketing advisor told him to take another billboard half a mile down the same highway that read, “We fix $5 haircuts.”

So, are too many schools cranking out too many doctors or too few patients causing the “I can't find a good location” dilemma? It's none of those. At its core, the reason for the “dilemma” is that there are too many doctors in the same area doing the same things. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: April 2012, page(s): 20