Article Date: 6/1/2005

Break the Mold
Transform your practice and increase patient care and satisfaction with a features-advantages-benefits system.

ILLUSTRATION BY GERAD TAYLOR

My optometric career has included a very special business partner that goes by the name of Change. Change and I created this partnership at the very onset because I knew that it would be a valuable relationship. In fact, it's probably the single most important element in a family of business tools that you can utilize to develop a successful practice.

Your business toolbox must include: quality of care and product, compassion for those whom you serve, clinical wisdom, patience, enthusiasm, financial caretaking and extensive knowledge of products and technologies, including new clinical techniques. Yet within this group and above it, I believe that change is the critical ingredient in the formula for success.

Fear not

When we talk about change, I don't mean change in random, impulsive bursts, but rather thought out and programmed change. Change without planning is chaos. Change with intention is great business management! The word change itself can be depressing and downright frightful to some of us. Yet change is a necessity for being current and growing strong. It shouldn't be a depressing word and I'll show you why.

Get a "fab" practice

I'm going to use an old sales acronym of F.A.B. to take us through the various sides and affects of change. F.A.B. stands for Features — Advantages — Benefits, and it's through the F.A.B. formula that we can understand how change can be our strongest business partner. Everything that we do as a service in business should satisfy the F.A.B. formula.

Each service should have a unique Feature that serves a specific need. This Feature should have an Advantage that positions it over other older or competitive services or products. Ultimately it must have a personal Benefit to the recipient to have value.

 

CHANGE

 

Fit patients with a technologically-advanced contact lens

Features
Total oxygen transmission, UV protection, thin lens, totally wettable

Advantages
Health benefits not available in older lens technologies

Benefits
Ability to wear lenses comfortably and safely for extended periods of time

This final concept is commonly overlooked in sales. You can have a wonderful product full of features and advantages, but if it doesn't have personal benefit it won't sell. A contact lens that allows complete oxygen transmission, is extremely thin, blocks all UV light and is totally wettable on the human eye is full of features and advantages compared to older competitive lenses. Unfortunately, patients won't appreciate this unless they understand that the contact lens can be worn safely and comfortably for extended periods of time so that they don't have to handle it but once a month — which is to their personal benefit.

A lot to live up to

As business managers, in addition to being doctors, we have a responsibility to serve several publics. First, we have the ultimate responsibility to our patients. They depend on us for competent, state-of-the-art care. Second, we have a responsibility to our employees who depend on us for their livelihood. Third, we have a responsibility to those who supply the products that we use in our practices.

Next, we have to care for our practice (business), which is the platform that provides the ability to serve the first three publics. Finally, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to be excellent managers of our business. Using F.A.B., we can look at why change is such a critical component as a business partner in allowing us to achieve success in meeting this responsibility to our publics.

The anatomy of change

Change itself is a key component that must be looked at and understood before we can see how change in our practice is important. We must look at some of the Features of change.

Addressing the issue of change makes us evaluate what's important to us and our practice. It creates a culture of introspection that demands that we evaluate the reasons we do things, which is an advantage. The benefit is that we get a firmer idea of the direction in which we need to move. In fact, if we're considering what's important and what we want our business to be and to look like, we automatically create a vision for our practice. Of course, creating a vision is something that we all know we should do, but seldom take the time to develop.

Another feature of change is risk. The advantage of risk is that creates introspection as to what it means to be alive, to try new things and to understand that we might have failures as well as successes. In other words, risk invigorates us. As a result, we strive to improve, create, repair, and innovate, which will lead to success — the ultimate benefit.

CHANGE

Install new state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment

Features
Faster test results, smaller footprint, compatible with information systems

Advantages
Improved patient flow and accuracy, increased staff skill sets, save space

Benefits
Improved doctor-patient interactions, increased patient "wow" factor, improved staff morale
 

Change differentiates your practice from others. This is an advantage, positioning you in a different light and giving you a competitive boost. In today's world of "pick-a-doc" from a list, you must achieve a competitive edge. Your practice will benefit from new patients who are looking for differentiation among what appears to be the same story from every provider. Your established patients will stick with you, as there won't be any others who do things the way you do; your differentiation becomes a clear benefit.

Change will invigorate your staff. Once you have a vision and know what's important to you, communicate this to your staff and allow them to participate in your vision. This will consolidate their commitment. Then, as you and your staff work towards achieving the vision, change will become everyone's partner. Each will realize that to achieve the vision, things must continually change. It will become a part of the culture of your practice, which will propel you forward. The end benefit is that you will achieve your ultimate goal.

Another benefit that comes from communicating your vision to your staff may appear on the surface to be a negative, yet in the end is not. It's that you will find out which of your staff is on your ship and which member isn't. It won't take long before you and your staff recognize who isn't buying into the vision. The person who isn't on board your ship isn't wrong, he just isn't headed in the same direction. Ultimately, it's a benefit for that person to understand that and to find a ship that is going his way. Keep staff who want to be on board your ship and are excited to be heading in your direction.

Making it real

Let me share with you some specific examples of change that our optometric practice has gone through and what it's meant to achieving our vision. To do this, you should know that our vision was to create a leading-edge optometric group that would provide the highest level of care and products to our patients. To accomplish this, we knew that we needed to differentiate ourselves so that our success would last as an ongoing business for those that would follow in our place.

Our dream was of an optometric practice that would be a trend setter with the vitality and strength to survive any change that the future could place before us. We realized long ago that we needed to become more efficient, in light of third party involvement in our practice. We felt that we needed to have the ability to see more patients in the same number of hours and still provide care at the highest level. We therefore decided to integrate state-of-the-art refracting systems into our offices and to train technicians to do the refractions. This allowed us to change our schedules to accommodate increased patient flow.

The new systems had all the features that we needed, which allowed us to have our staff do the refractions which created a huge advantage over our previous methods. The benefits were manifold. First of all, we were able to see many more patients in a higher-quality manner in the same amounts of time — creating a tremendous financial benefit. The techs who were trained on the new refracting systems were very proud of their new skills; this boosted morale and increased our staff retention rate.

Another benefit was from and to the patients. They were excited about the new technology, the accuracy of the prescriptions and the extra time that we could spend with them. Really it was less time, but it was richer in doctor-patient interaction, which they perceived as more time. Thus everyone had a benefit from this change in our practice.

 

CHANGE

 

Add specialty services to the practice

Features
New specialized diagnostic and treatment tools

Advantages
Differentiate the practice from those of competitors, increase patient base and revenues

Benefits
Meet the needs of a loyal patients who require special services

Keep innovating

We've also added low vision specialty services and vision therapy services. These changes weren't necessarily easy, but had great benefits. Both services required many adjustments in our weekly patient flow and schedules, as well as space requirements and remodeling. But the advantage in our community was a tremendous differentiation of our group from others.

We've also added corneal refractive therapy. Being able to reshape corneas to eliminate myopia is a tremendous advantage over customary contact lenses. The benefit to the patients has been outstanding and they let us know it! These additional services help our team move towards our corporate vision, which encourages the staff. We can afford to give them more in benefits and salary, as well as the satisfaction they tell us they feel as we meet our goals.

Empower your staff

We've restructured our staff into operational teams with team leaders for each. They all have input into the daily operations and teams can make decisions that work best for their area of responsibility. We've seen a tremendous change in attitude as our staff members take ownership and pride in what they do and how their area operates. It's been a tremendous morale booster and it ends up not only benefiting each one individually, but it strengthens our business.

Dr. Kirchner is president of Hi-Tech Optics and a senior partner of EyeCare Specialties. You can reach him at Jkkirchner@aol.com

 



Optometric Management, Issue: June 2005