Article Date: 6/1/2006

o.d. to o.d.
Playing the Hand You Were Dealt
Before you make any changes to your practice, or play your next hand of Black Jack, it pays to understand risk.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O. Chief Optometric Editor

On my way home from the Mountain West Council of Optometry meeting held in Las Vegas, I began to reflect on my experiences at the Black Jack table (which were thankfully profitable). Black Jack, of course, is recognized as the card game that provides players with the best odds in a casino.

The odds, however, are not close to even for those who don't prepare. Players must familiarize themselves with the rules of the game as well as the mathematical possibilities associated with the combinations of cards in the "hand" of the player as well as those of the dealer for "the house." Preparing to play in this fashion makes Black Jack less of a gamble or if you prefer, reduces the risk of an unwanted outcome.

The Black Jack connection

At this point you are wondering what in the world gambling has to do with optometry. Well, as I remembered my Black Jack experience, it made me think of those who never gamble and that in turn made me think about optometry. One of the behaviors very commonly seen among optometrists is that of being very late to adopt new technology and proactively change the manner in which they manage their practice. Many, if not most optometrists are of the behavior profile that is more willing to make changes in the way they practice reactively in an effort to keep up, rather than proactively in an effort to get ahead.

A question of risk

The reason that I think we see this "slow to adopt" reactive behavior in optometrists is because change involves risk and optometrists are typically not "risk managers" as much as they are "risk avoiders." Many of our continuing education presenters use this as a way to deliver their messages. How many times have you heard a CE presenter make recommendations to do something in an effort to avoid being sued, avoid being audited, or avoid loosing a patient? This whole premise speaks to the tendency for optometrists to seek ways to avoid risk rather than manage it.

So let's talk about risk; I can recall many times in my 28-year career as a small business owner (optometrist) when I had to make business decisions that would have significantly positive impact on the success of my business if my decision was right, but would have been the end of my business if I was wrong.

Weighing risk and reward

Was I risk taker? Absolutely I was, and I still am, but I don't take risks without the potential for reward, and I don't take uncalculated risks. Rather I weigh the risk/reward relationship in making my decisions. I manage the risk. I know I'm not the only optometrist or business owner who has made those kinds of decisions, many successful business owners will tell you the same thing about their experience in risk management as part of managing their business. It's the due diligence, the learning the rules and the careful study of the potential for risk as well as reward that make risk management — rather than risk avoidance — the better way to ensure your business success.

The real gamble

Are there risks involved in practicing optometry and managing a small business? Sure there are, but the only real gamble in optometry is to bet that you can continue practicing, managing and avoiding risk in the same way you have in this ever-changing marketplace and expect to survive. Ante up!

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2006