Article Date: 6/1/2005

o.d. to o.d.
Practice Growth: It Ain't About What You Do, It's About Why
Practices are built on relationships and some of the most valuable relationships occur between patients and staff.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.,
Chief Optometric Editor

Those of us with experience in creating an optometric practice from scratch, or growing an optometric practice from the level where we first became involved (as an associate or partner), recognize that gaining new patients and retaining existing patients is a full-time job.

Many practitioners invest thousands of dollars in advertising campaigns, marketing professionals, consulting and practice management programs, hundreds of hours in listening to practice management lectures and reading articles. For the most part, these focus on identifying the tactics or the little day-to-day "things" we do to gain and maintain the patients in the practice.

Understand the big picture

Even though these investments will pay dividends in the growth and maintenance of an optometric practice, they are in many ways only small pieces of the bigger picture that optometrists must understand and master in an effort to most effectively grow and maintain their practices.

In addition, focusing on practice management tactics rather than first developing your own philosophy regarding practice growth and maintenance is often counterproductive. The tactics are put in place without the practitioner or staff having a true sense of how or why they are valuable.

In developing a practice growth and patient retention program for your practice, let me pass along a few things that every optometrist needs to know. First, you don't add patients to your practice nor do you maintain the patients in your practice. Sure, we see patients, and those individuals that we see as patients have sought us out to provide their care, but you don't grow a practice by adding patients. You grow a practice by creating personal relationships, and you don't retain and maintain patients, you retain and maintain personal relationships.

Secondly, the personal relationships that bond patients to a practice are not necessarily between the

patient and the optometrist. That's right, as hard as it may be to believe; the personal relationship that most often bonds a patient to your practice is most likely between the patient and a member of your staff. Now, doctor, don't get your feelings hurt, the odds are just not in your favor. How many staff members do you have, two, three, four, six, 10 or more? And when the patients call the office to make their first appointment in your office, who do they speak to? They speak to a member of your staff. When they're greeted at the reception desk, who greets them? A member of your staff.

When the patients are guided from your reception area to begin their examination, their pretesting is completed, ancillary testing performed, contact lens instruction provided, recommendations provided in your optical department, payments received and their next appointment scheduled . . . well, you get the point.

Lead the way

Certainly, you as the doctor want to do everything possible to build a personal relationship with your patients. You cannot leave this up to your staff. You must set the tone, provide the example and lead your staff in the building of personal relationships that will ultimately determine the rate of practice growth and profitability.

 



Optometric Management, Issue: June 2005