Article Date: 4/1/2004

If I Had To Do It Over
Raising a Practice With Tough Love
This savvy O.D. fostered early success by making a few critical decisions.

I was extraordinarily lucky to begin my career at the best of times. Optometry's "Golden Age" was in full swing. Managed care was a mere glimmer in legislators' eyes, and fewer practicing optometrists meant less competition for patients and excellent profit margins. That my practice is still flourishing in 2004, however, has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the lessons I've learned along the way.


Over the years, I've been blessed with a terrific support system -- my office staff. Unfortunately, it took me 9 years to realize I was trying to do their jobs as well as my own. In addition to seeing patients, I was hiring staff, coordinating schedules, administering benefits and keeping the books. Finally, I hired a capable office manager to take care of the day-to-day details I was finding so frustrating, and I could once again focus on what I really enjoy: Optometry.

How much I depended on my staff really hit home when I hired a new associate who was more interested in impressing me than in contributing to a team effort. She consistently underestimated my staff's contribution to the practice, lobbying to exclude them from policy meetings and equipment purchase decisions -- generally disrupting the cooperative atmosphere I'd so carefully fostered. In the end, I had to let her go.


About 12 years ago, I made a change that horrified some of my fellow optometrists. At that time, I was accepting 19 different insurance policies. I even kept a full-time insurance expert on staff, just to keep track of the various guidelines and requirements. After extensively researching insurance premiums, I chose five policies that were most profitable for me and most economical for my patients. In particular, I looked for plans with fair reimbursement schedules and quick claims processing, and I avoided plans that would exclude too many of my patients. To this day, I never accept more than six plans at one time.


Every 3 months, my staff and I review our office procedures and policies. We take these opportunities to try new strategies and fix any problems we may have. For example, we recently decided to improve patient flow by immediately dilating patient as they arrived in the office. We quickly realized how bad an idea this really was. Patients had so much difficulty choosing frames with blurry vision that we decided to discontinue this "time-saving" measure within 1 week.


As I approach retirement, I'm very pleased with the choices I've made over the years. I've always considered my practice a living entity and nurtured my early success by constantly reassessing my policies. Overall, there are a few changes I wish I'd made sooner, but my flexible approach gave me the freedom to make the changes I needed to build a successful practice.

Dr. Peterson is a 1978 graduate of the University of Houston College of Optometry. She owns the Bayhead Eye Center in Sanford, Fla.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2004