Article Date: 2/1/2013

Business Strategies
business strategies

Going Out of Business?

Treat your practice like an acute illness instead of a chronic one.


Gary Gerber, O.D.

An optometrist recently bought (and grossly overpaid for) a practice that was underperforming. He was unable to pay his bills. Suppliers were cutting him off, creditors were calling daily, and his personal credit cards were nearly maxed out. He was losing sleep, and if he didn’t turn this around fast, would have to permanently close his doors.

Fast forward six months later, the crisis is averted, and he’s profitable. But this story isn’t a commercial for what we did to turn things around for the doctor. Rather, it’s about how the energy from the culture of a crisis fueled things in his practice and are now leading him to permanent, positive and profitable long-term changes.

Dire consequences

The awareness that the practice was in dire trouble worked to everyone’s advantage: Everyone knew exactly what had to be done (increase revenues quickly) and the exact consequences of failure. Nothing else mattered. Collect all co-pays from every patient? Check. Submit insurance claims the second the patient is checked out? Check. Mention photochromic and AR lenses to every appropriate patient? Check.

All the things the doctor had tried in the past, that worked for a short time but never stuck, were now happening.

Getting their attention

During a non-crisis situation in your practice, is your staff really zeroed in on any one goal or directive in particular? The answer is probably not, since there are so many moving parts and vaguely stated goals in nearly every practice. But what would happen if you told your staff, “If we don’t mop up our outstanding accounts receivables in 30 days, we’ll all be out of a job”? Odds are you’d have their attention, and the job would get done.

With this heightened sense of awareness and importance, staff behaviors change. Now, a task they once treated as, “I’ll get to that when I have time” gets done right away. They act. They implement, and they do it with purpose. Just like a patient who has an acute painful red eye is more compliant than a chronic glaucoma patient, your acutely ill practice gets the attention of your newly anointed ER staff more than your chronically sick practice.

So, just as the painful red eye patient becomes less compliant when the pain goes away, most practice owners become less focused when the immediate crisis is put to bed. Consider though what would happen if your practice was chronically, acutely ill — a business oxymoron if there ever was one.

You’d always know exactly what needed to be done and how much more important that was relative to anything else. Your staff would always know why you believe this to be the case. Your staff would know what actions are continually required to keep things moving and keep the “patient” healthy.

Instinctual responses

Not every overweight person gets in shape when their doctor tells them their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol are elevated. Yet, many do make favorable and sustainable lifestyle changes in reaction to a crisis diagnosis. It’s not easy once the initial shock wears off or the pain subsides, but many do it. You too can use your almost reflexive instinctual response to a crisis to continually build your practice. It’s still working for our client. OM


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2013, page(s): 74