Article Date: 4/1/2004

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Being the Best
What's the secret to becoming the best? Do you strive toward being the best or do others first see you as such?
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

If I asked you to describe the way you practice, you might respond, "professional," "traditional optometric" "retail," or "medical optometry." Nowadays, optometry has many different descriptors. But what I rarely hear in response to that question is a guttural rejection of the question's premise. Few doctors reply, "Gary, I reject the premise of your question. It doesn't matter how I describe my practice. What matters is how my patients describe it and they think it's . . . ."

Defining our practices

We don't define our practice's persona, who we are, why we exist or what separates us from our competition. Our patients' perceptions of us define these factors and they base these perceptions on their experiential dealings with us. Were we polite on the phone, did we offer convenient appointments, are their contact lenses comfortable, are their glasses fashionable? All of these patient experiences frame their answer to, "How would you describe Dr. Jones's practice?"

Which came first?

The fact that patients choose us, that they define who we are, is the reason why a recent issue of New York magazine really hit home with me. Once a year, the magazine lists "The Best Doctors," broken down by sub-specialty. I've looked through this list for many years, but this year's list had two points that really stood out to me:

1 The list didn't include optometry in the list of specialties. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing our profession listed in this annual list. But this year, with our profession having achieved the widest scope of care ever, I thought it was finally time for us to rank in with the "real doctors."

2 Several doctors listed "No HMOs/PPOs" in their biographies. That descriptor forced me to circle back to my previous thought about who really defines our practices. Is it us? Or is it our patients? That simple statement made me wonder, which came first for these "best" doctors? Did they decide not to accept HMOs and then became known as the best or vice versa? Or was it a combination thought of, "If I want patients to perceive me as the best, then I can't participate with any HMOs." My experience as a practice-building consultant has me believing it's the latter.

Be the best you can be

I've written before about so-called "boutique medicine" and you already know of my distaste for how managed care affects the business administration of our practices. However, this list of "best" doctors and their biographies codified for me and my clients what I've been trying to explain for years: To be the best, or more accurately, for others to perceive you as the best, you must practice at the absolute highest level of care.

"Care" encompasses not only clinical care, but how you treat your patients as consumers of their eye care (i.e., your customer service must also be exemplary and defy comparison). This proves nearly impossible when your hands are tied by the intervention of a third party in your doctor-patient relationship. You can no longer provide the best because you're not the only one doing the providing.

New York's "best" have climbed that mountain. Whether they are indeed the best rheumatologists and pediatric nephrologists isn't important. Their patients and colleagues perceive them as the best and that perception is reality. 

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


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2004