Article Date: 1/1/2006

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Reconciling Profits and Patient Care
Like it or not, your practice can't function without turning a profit.

Nearly every clinical article that discusses a new drug, device, spectacle or contact lens ends with something like, "Not only is this product good for our patients, it's also good for your practice and bottom line." The same thing happens in lectures, "Now that we've discussed the clinical benefits, let's talk about how X can benefit your practice."

Optometry's dirty word

Well, as the president of a company focused on making doctors profitable, let me be the first to say: Not only is money good for your business, but you'll be out of business without it. And, if you don't focus on staying profitable, you probably won't be. Yes, in our capitalist society, running a profitable practice is a necessary event — not evil — and not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. If you've reached the point in your career that you're reading this article, you've made a huge investment and taken significant risks. It's time to be paid back.

While we are charged with caring for patients, it's time to challenge the age-old notion that too simplistically says, "We must put patients ahead of profits." Yes, we must care for patients and not treat them with products and treatments solely deployed to make profit. But I propose that instead of following the normally sequential series of events (patients then profit), we start thinking in terms of profits first. I'm not suggesting you be mercenary to the exclusion of good care; rather, realize that if we don't focus on being profitable, we will eventually provide substandard care. Without money to reinvest in our practices — for better-trained staff, advanced products and technologies — we will certainly not be able to provide the best care.

Is it an accident that some "trophy" practices, renowned for providing exemplary care, are also the most profitable? It isn't a question of the chicken or the egg, but a question of being willing to accept both scenarios: the chicken, then the egg and the egg, then the chicken.

Think it through

Here's one example of how you can put this new thinking into practice: When you evaluate whether you want to start fitting a new contact lens, you would generally look at the science first. If you're convinced that the clinical research is sound and there are physiological benefits, examine things like pricing, insurance coverage (or lack of it) and profitability.

Instead of this conventional, linear assessment, approach the new modality from a different perspective. Consider: Will this new lens fit into your overall business plan? Is it in sync with the image you want to convey? Finally, will it support the level of clinical care your practice is known for? If the answer to the first few questions is no, your assessment is over.

Reading this you may feel backed into a corner. In our example, what if the science is genuinely supportive, but the profit picture looks grim? I propose these two events can't happen. If they do, your profitability analysis was likely flawed. Technology and products backed by solid science that show genuine patient benefits are always profitable. We've never had a client provide clinically superior care with a new technology or product and not profit from it. It just doesn't happen.

The last word

There I said it. Profit is a good thing. And so is being able to take care of your patients in the best way possible, which you can only do if you remain profitable.


Optometric Management, Issue: January 2006