Article Date: 7/1/2005

Defining Success
It's not all about profitability, say these practitioners, although that's important. Here's their take on the qualities that separate a good contact lens practice from an outstanding one.

Does your practice have the potential to be one of those thriving, nationally recognized practices seen as examples of "how it should be done?" In a recent roundtable discussion — a prelude to the Contact Lens Practice Upgrade Program — four O.D.s with successful and growing practices discussed how they measure success. Some of their answers may surprise you.

 

"If you're a naturally proactive person who's interested in new technology, you'll always share the most recent advances with your patients. ... Not only will your staff fall in line behind that philosophy, but your patients also will catch the excitement to try new things."

— Mary Jo Stiegemeier, O.D., F.A.A.O.

Making a living and more

What makes practitioners say, "This is a great practice?" What makes them pleased with their professional direction? And how do other practitioners characterize top contact lens practices? The answers range from profitability to professional fulfillment.

Profitability is a given, the panelists agree. Part of what makes a contact lens practice successful is its ability to make money. And profitability hinges on efficiency — a.k.a. time management — and patient retention, which often go hand-in-hand.

"We have to manage our time and the patient's time efficiently," says Kelly K. Kerksick, O.D., Columbia, Ill. "That means having a system for seeing patients and fitting contact lenses. When we're efficient, the office runs smoothly, and we avoid inconveniencing our patients. Efficiency boosts patient retention, which I interpret as satisfaction."

Adds Walter D. West, O.D., F.A.A.O., Brentwood, Tenn., "Optometrists talk about growing practices by adding patients, but for all of us on this panel — if you think about how we've built our practices to the size they are — it wasn't by adding patients but by building relationships on a personal level."

 

 

 

"Everyone in our office talks in terms of a continuing relationship with our patients. ... Patients hear this not just from me, but also from my staff throughout the visit. ... By reinforcing the relationship, I'm ensuring my patients will come back to see me."

— Kelly K. Kerksick, O.D.

Dr. Kerksick concurs. "Everyone in my office talks in terms of a continuing relationship with our patients — one office visit leads to another and another," she says. "Patients hear this not just from me, but from my staff throughout the visit. We always have patients schedule their next appointments before they leave the office. By reinforcing the relationship, I'm ensuring my patients will come back to see me."

And no patient is as loyal as a happy contact lens patient, says Mary Jo Stiegemeier, O.D., F.A.A.O., Beachwood, Ohio. "My practice's success is a direct result of this loyalty," she says. "A practice can't grow if it's losing patients."

Successful contact lens fittings and word-of-mouth referrals distinguish a hallmark practice, agrees Millicent L. Knight, O.D., Evanston, Ill., but so does quality of life.

"It's important that staff members and the doctors are happy with their environment, the scheduling and other quality-of-life issues," Dr. Knight says. "These factors influence our moods. If we're exhausted and cranky, we set the tone for the whole office, and patients will pick up on it. Successful practitioners are well-rounded and set a positive tone."

When it comes to quality of life, adds Dr. West, nothing beats enjoying what you do. "When I'm doing something interesting, facing the various challenges my patients bring, it's satisfying and fun," he says. "Contact lenses give me more unique challenges, professionally and cerebrally, and these challenges keep me satisfied."

 

"You need good leadership skills, but you also need good 'follower-ship' skills. ...If we listen to patients and staff, they'll tell us what they want from us and from the practice ... we need to be open and receptive to making changes."

— Millicent L. Knight, O.D.

Embracing a new mindset

Are you ready to make some changes to drive your practice to the next level of success and profitability? In addition to efficiency and patient retention, the panel recommends you take a look at your overall practice philosophy.

Dr. Stiegemeier explains: "If you're a risk-taker — that is, you don't mind change and you actually encourage it — you'll frequently try new approaches and new products. This philosophy moves from doctor to staff to patient," she says.

"If you're a naturally proactive person who's interested in new technology, you'll always share the most recent advances with your patients," Dr. Stiegemeier says. "You'll even show a happy patient something new and better. Not only will your staff fall in line behind that philosophy, but your patients also will catch the excitement to try new things."

Along these same lines, Dr. West cites leadership skills as a key to success. He explains: "We're giving our staff the leadership necessary to work in unity and succeed, as well as serving as examples for other practitioners. Practitioners might begin by mirroring our approach, and then break new ground as they succeed and gain confidence."

But breaking new ground doesn't always start with leadership skills learned from successful colleagues. According to Dr. Knight, some of the best positive changes in a practice can come from listening to patients and staff.

"You need good leadership skills, but you also need good 'follower-ship' skills," she says. "We have to be open-minded, and sometimes that's tough for doctors. If we listen to patients and staff, they'll tell us what they want from us and from the practice, but the answers may not match our own ideas. It can be difficult, but we need to be open and receptive to making changes."

Read on for the panel's insights on a variety of changes you can implement for the greatest impact — none of which involve paint chips or brushes.

What Brings Patients Back?

From a patient's perspective, successful practitioners:

  • Communicate well
  • Take sufficient time with each patient
  • Are personable
  • Use the latest technology.

Hallmarks of a Successful Practice

According to the panelists, successful contact lens practices rise above the rest because of:

1. Attentive, knowledgeable staff

2. Practitioner's skill set

3. Cutting-edge technology

4. Attractive office environment.



Optometric Management, Issue: July 2005