Article Date: 8/1/2002

Maximizing the Potential of Your Ophthalmic Office
What You Need to Know About
Planning and Design

By Fred L. Kahn


Copyright 2002 by
This excerpt was reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

Book Excerpt



Using Perceptions to Build Practices

Perceptions are critical to the success of many ventures, including eye-care practices. They are discussed here to increase your awareness of this powerful force that can benefit your patients and your practice. The role of perceptions needs to be examined, understood, and effectively applied.

To attain your version of practice "success" in the shortest possible time, you and your practice must win the right perceptions in the minds of patients, strangers, educators, legislators, other health-care professionals, etc.

In eye-care practice, people's perceptions of an improved or relocated practice can strongly accelerate earnings. This has been so underappreciated that it merits the emphasis given here.

Public perceptions of the facility can contribute powerfully to practice growth.

Your office exterior, should win public (nonpatient) perceptions of your practice that will attract new patients. Your office exterior should:

A well-known, respected jurist, when granting a retrial, said, "Not only must justice be done. It must appear to be done." The same maxim applies to you. Not only must you serve patients as well as they expect you to-you must also appear to be doing so. A diploma on the wall isn't enough. For example, a patient or potential patient may see and/or hear things in your office that cause doubt about your doctor status, or about other attributes that patients expect of you and that build their confidence. If that happens (as it easily can), the patient may not return-there is no "retrial."

Ask a colleague who has been in a new office for more than a year (in your kind of population base) how much the patient and public perceptions of the new facility have helped the colleague's "practice growth."

If you have made no effort to be sure that the exterior of your facility wins the right perceptions from nonpatients, you could be missing an important opportunity.

It is unfortunate when a successful, caring optometrist or ophthalmologist with high standards and a good practice has a facility whose exterior leaves nonpatients with a perception that does not match the reality of the doctor's excellence.

The Public Benefit from a Practice That Wins the Right Perceptions

An eye doctor's practice that wins the right perceptions is seen to be providing the high level of care suggested by the evidence. This perception (partly from its facility) will result in more people getting the benefit of its superior care.

Is Your Present Office Winning the Right Perceptions?

To be sure that you are getting positive perceptions from your present office, try to see it as a patient or stranger does. Turn a critical eye on the outside and inside. Ask yourself, "Do passers-by (driving and walking) notice my office? Does the outside give convincing evidence that will attract new patients? Does all that a person in my office sees and hears win the right perceptions?" Too often the honest answer will be "No," or "not well enough."

Consider also the importance of perceptions that are potentially damaging with your loyal, established patients, when they encounter something negative at your office. You know that you and your staff are truly caring, competent people, in a patient-friendly office. Patients are happy. Why invest money to try for better perceptions? One valid answer is that these happy patients patronize other places (for nonoptical services and goods) that have been updated into improved, more attractive facilities that make them feel good, and more important-where they often feel catered to by the progress they see. When you don't make changes, your patient base could erode.

A facility that wins the right perceptions can help a practice be less vulnerable to competition, including the following interesting situation: Have you ever thought about the competition from all the merchants trying to attract your patients' consumer spending? Or why an eye doctor who is alone in a community still does much better with a strong, impressive facility? People in a one eye doctor town enjoy feeling that their doctor installed an outstanding operation for them. They think she/he really didn't have to, so they tend to feel proud that their small town has a first-class eye doctor.

Credibility is the issue. Is all the evidence of your facility, both outside and in, consistent with this reality of your excellence?

Frankly, when I started this work (more than fifty years ago), I had no idea that the perception factor would be so important.

How do you verify this? Again, ask colleagues about their rate of growth after their change, and what parts of their new operation contributed the most. You will then have objective evidence for planning. Visit some of their offices and note your perceptions of them.

Key Perceptions That Produce the Fastest Growth

Among the many public/patient perceptions important to the growth rate of, and patient confidence in your practice, four seem to be leaders. You and your practice should always be instantly, undeniably perceived as:

Be Perceived as Successful

Most people want the confidence and sense of self-worth they get from perceiving that they are going to a doctor who is "excellent, one of the best, a success."

Some doctors are uneasy about being perceived as a success. These doctors ask, "Won't I lose some patients who feel I will cost too much?" In my experience, some practices will indeed lose a few, usually those patients who are looking for the lowest cost and biggest discount.

Marketing experts oppose the policy of trying to be seen as all things to all people. In a mixed-income community, doctors who offer low fees and discounts may attract people who base their choice of eye doctor on cost. But they will damage their credibility with those (the majority?) who want to be sure they are entrusting their care to someone they perceive as a first class doctor.

People at all economic levels want to feel that first-class care is available to them, regardless of where they live, or the demographic profile of their area.

You, Your Staff and Facility Must Be Perceived as Having Excellent Taste

The power of people's sensitivity about their appearance in glasses seems so totally persuasive that it is hard to understand why that sensitivity is treated so unimaginatively, casually, and even poorly in the eyewear operations of so many eye-care practices.

Does your practice, and especially your eyewear area, present reassuring evidence of a pleasing eyewear experience, leading to a happy result? Positive patient perceptions, based in part on evidence of good taste throughout your practice, will improve the confidence and positive attitude of those selecting eyewear, and their referrals will attract more patients.

Do you need proof of your benefits from the right perceptions? Once again, ask your colleagues. Those with new offices will usually tell you about their experiences and their results. Ask:


Optometric Management, Issue: August 2002