Article Date: 7/1/2006

view from the top
Optometry's Jekyll and Hyde
It can be difficult to reconcile the different aspects of this profession.
GARY GERBER, O.D.

Some say our profession suffers from a split personality. At 9:00 a.m., we're doctors who treat sick eyes. At 9:30 a.m., we morph into eyeglass salespeople. This perceived schism in our professional obligations has created controversy since the first patient was asked, "Which is better, one or two?" This month's column doesn't claim to have the resolution to optometry's Hatfields Vs. McCoys. Rather, I want to view it from another perspective: It's not medicine. It's retail. Get over it.

The harsh truth

Maybe it's my northern N.J. upbringing that has me writing such a blunt statement (that I have no plans on apologizing for). Truth be told, those who readily embrace the inherent retail genetics of eyeglass dispensing enjoy a more profitable practice and greater inner peace about their profession.

Patients' funds for eyeglass purchases are discretionary. This is a key learning point. Intellectually, when a patient is confronted with the question, "Should I pay extra for that three-piece, drill-mount frame with high-index, AR lenses?" they answer it with, "Well if I do that, I'll have less money for my vacation to Cancun." The point: When you recognize that patients view the purchase of eyeglasses just as they do a big screen TV, you've made a quantum leap towards higher profits in your practice and less professional strife. 

Make it fun!

So many offices are losing (literally) hundreds of thousands of dollars by forcing the medical model of optometry into their dispensaries. Having gonioscopy or punctal occlusion is serious stuff — deciding between a gold or silver frame shouldn't be!

If your staff is cross-trained to work on both "sides" of your practice, watch how they interact with patients. Patients will react differently to the technician (dressed in scrubs) than they will to someone in a business suit. If you use opticians who only work with patients in your dispensary, make sure they understand some distancing of their skills from yours is good.

Exceptions to the rule

Before you send me an e-mail about aniseikonic lenses and the nuances of prescribing vertical or slab off prism to alleviate chronic headaches, let me categorically state that I'm not talking about every patient in every practice. I'm referring to the majority of patients in the majority of practices. Based on our experience as consultants, we're comfortable saying that the need to prescribe a myodisc is rare. The challenge is not letting those rare, isolated, medical prescribing events get in the way of managing a well-run retail business — your eyeglass dispensary.

Along the lines of keeping it fun, and keeping in mind that an eyeglass purchase is made with discretionary income, get comfortable discussing glasses with patients in non-medical terminology. For patients who have either no change in their prescriptions or one you deem to be visually inconsequential, it's perfectly acceptable to say, "We haven't found a significant change in your prescription, which is great news. To celebrate, let's go next door and look at some of the new styles we just got in. We have some cool frames that would look great on you."

"New, cool, look great?" Is this optometry? No, it's not. It's retail. DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM OR CALL DR. GERBER AT (800) 867-9303.



Optometric Management, Issue: July 2006