Article Date: 7/1/2003

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Attract More Profitable Patients
Revamp or reinstate your marketing strategies and watch your practice grow.
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

Imagine a world where after you're done examining your patient and she's chosen her new eyeglasses, she approaches your checkout desk and pays her bill -- herself. Hey, I can dream can't I? Besides, it wasn't that long ago that first party payers outnumbered third party payers.

With doctors continually complaining about the paltry payments of managed care and the large numbers of non-profitable patients these plans bring to their offices, it's time to take a look at how doctors built their practices before the intrusion of these plans. After all, when there was no managed care, doctors still had patients to examine.

As the managed care graph has spiraled up, marketing by doctors has withered away. Indeed, it seems that the influx of managed care patients has gotten some doctors so busy that they've forgotten how to grow their businesses without it. And, even if they remembered, they now have less time to do it.

Beat the path

Introducing yourself to others with a "customer" profile similar to the one you're trying to attract is an effective strategy. For example, if you're trying to grow your contact lens business, plastic surgeons, hair dressers and health clubs have similar clientele who you can cross-market to. Public speaking to civic groups, schools and other organizations about new developments in eye care is also a great way to spread your practice's name.

Don't knock convention

Well-crafted direct mail letters and newspaper ads are still a viable way to grow a business. However, third-party payers have all but erased our memories as to the effectiveness of these media. It's certainly easier to join a managed care plan and get new patients then it is to write and send a direct-mail piece. But it's not nearly as profitable.

Unconventional and high tech

You can also use Web sites, e-mail and fax to grow your business at a fraction of the cost of more conventional methods. Again, we rarely consider this when a managed care company is "marketing" our practice for us. Similarly, you can inexpensively transfer home-grown "reality TV" tours of your office to video or DVD and send them to prospective patients.

Yet another approach

Some may argue that doing all of the above might only attract more managed care patients and add fuel to an already out-of-control and disorganized practice management bonfire. However, our consulting company has been successful without attracting unprofitable patients. We've carefully crafted marketing campaigns that specifically target two groups of profitable patients:

1. One of our clients used a program we set up that outlined what unhappy managed care patients told us at a focus group. He guarantees prospective patients that they won't have to wait long for appointments or for eyeglasses. This group won't mind going to a practice that's not on their provider list if they know they'll get the treatment and care that they desire.

2. We've also successfully marketed to patients who don't have vision care coverage -- and quite a number of them still exist.

Be proactive

Don't let managed care become your sole marketing vehicle for new patients. What would you do to fill your appointment book if you weren't on any managed care plans? You never know, that dream might some day come true! 

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable.  Learn more at or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2003