Article Date: 2/1/2004

o.d. to o.d.
Maintain the Proper Perspective with Primary Care
Primary care has become perhaps the single greatest addition to optometric practices. But has it distracted optometrists?
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor

Optometrists are primary care practitioners whose roots are firmly planted in the business of helping patients see more clearly. I believe that we have the ability, through continuing education,
individual study and clinical experience, to broaden our knowledge base and as a result, to expand our scope of practice to an even greater degree than we've already accomplished.

Our ability to provide primary care is perhaps the greatest single addition to optometric practice in the history of the profession. I also believe that the ability to provide primary care in optometric practices has been an unfortunate distraction to many O.D.s. Many O.D.s in today's optometric practices aren't using primary care as an addition to the business of caring for patient's vision but are rather turning their focus to primary care as an alternative.

What about management skills?

For all that we invested in post graduate study to gain the knowledge to provide primary care, and the certification to provide primary care as well as the legislative efforts to expand the scope of practice in all 50 states, few O.D.s provide primary care to their patients. Yet many optometrists allow primary care to distract their attention from the need to improve their management skills for the practice. Perhaps optometrists wouldn't say so if asked, but their behavior speaks volumes.

For example, lecture presentations teaching optometrists how to read an MRI to diagnose head injuries, or how to clinically manage retinal anomalies that they'll never see (and certainly will never manage) unless they practice in the Congo, are filled to capacity, yet presentations focused on improving practice profitability based on a better understanding of optometry's "core business" (providing vision related care) are empty or not even made available.

In many instances, a presentation whose title contains the word "management" in it will never find its way to the program. So then, are the meeting planners to blame for this misdirection of optometry? Absolutely not! In fact, meeting planners recruit presentations that their attendees want. And how do meeting planners determine what their attendees want? To a certain degree, they consider which courses were well attended in the past and which received positive input from attendees in the form or course evaluations.

Create a well-balanced recipe

Optometrists have diverted their attention away from the very portion of the "business" that they at one time owned so completely that they virtually had no competition. Rather than learn the basic skills of marketing and patient management necessary to maintain their present contact lens and spectacle patient base, as well as recapture that which they've lost, optometrists are attempting to let their contact lens and optical business run itself while they make up the difference in lost revenue by focusing on primary care.

It's interesting to note that practices having larger-than-average segments of primary care patients are also the practices that have the healthiest contact lens and optical patient base. That's because the majority of patients who require primary care fall in the age demographic of 40 and older. The greater the base of satisfied vision care patients you have in your practice, the greater your potential for developing the primary care segment of your practice.

Keep all areas strong

Vision care, the core business of optometry, creates the single greatest opportunity to grow a primary care practice.

Lose your core business and your primary care practice will follow. (And now that focusing on the optical and contact lens portions of our practice is the best way to grow primary care, is it okay to talk about management again?)


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2004