Article Date: 9/1/2006

patient demographics
Examining New Demographics in Optometry

Use both professional and patient demographics to build your practice.
RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S., Warren, Ohio

Optometrists should understand the importance of demographics in eye care because it gives us a valuable reference point as to the mode of practice we should emphasize. We can approach the topic of demographics in eye care in two areas. Professional demographics, which we'll define as the sources of potential referrals from other professionals in your area; and patient demographics, defined as the age, ethnicity and race of potential patients in a market. You'll see how the data from both types of demographics can tell you which services and specialties will bring more patients and be most profitable for you.

Professional demographics

Uncovering potential referrals from professionals in your area is often simpler than you might expect, and very fruitful. We'll start with other optometrists and educational institutions.

Seek out other O.D.s. In recent years, we've seen an enormous increase in O.D.s who choose corporate care over owning a practice — in my experience as a member of three optometric boards, it seems that the majority of graduates seek jobs as opposed to independent practice. Whereas not long ago, there were many more private practitioners compared with corporate, now it's not uncommon for a lone independent to be surrounded by corporate colleagues.

Corporate O.D.s have a history of referring a lot of functional vision, specialty contact lens and medical work to ophthalmologists. Due to the demographic changes stated above, I've taught numerous clients how to market to these corporate colleagues to refer to their independent practice. This creates a referral process that has been absent from our great profession.

Tap the schools. In the national debate over the quality of education, we've seen an increase in private schools in some areas of the country. As a consultant who works in all 50 states, I've found that the private institutions are open to having outside professionals assist on a volunteer basis. These educators welcome the interdisciplinary approach to learning. My company has taught many O.D.s how to get involved in school screenings, Parent Teacher Association speaker bureaus and teacher workshops.

Many practices have grown significantly by fostering the relationship between teachers, parents, psychologists and school nurses. Private schools frequently "adopt" the private optometrist as the eyecare professional for the school. Opportunities to get elected to private school board positions are also available. In these situations, you should offer orthoptics, developmental vision and pediatric optometry.

Don't overlook sports. Many optometrists are located near a college or professional sports team facility. This "professional demographic" opens many doors. One client opened a practice near a professional football training facility. In the three years he was in practice prior to retaining my company, he'd made no contact with the team. I contacted the general manager and developed a vision care program with the entire team, their dependents, administrators, secretaries and trainers. I taught my client how to market himself in his community with this prize relationship. Throughout his office we posted photographs of the O.D. treating the players and posing with the team and coaches. Taking advantage of this demographic made my client famous throughout this large metropolitan area.

Patient demographics

You can break down potential patient markets according to ethnicity, race or age. I have clients who are fluent in certain foreign languages and it's wise for them to seek communities where their language skills can help develop their practices. If you find you're in an area that is heavily Medicaid, you would do well to emphasize the medical aspects of optometry, because historically this group exhibits a higher percentage of systemic and ocular disease. Following are some real-life examples I've encountered.

Ethnicity. When my parents came to this country, it was common for cities to have ethnic neighborhoods. Today we are seeing a rebirth of ethnic communities. I have a client who was born in the Middle East. She retained me prior to opening a practice in an Arabic community of about 60,000 people. Her ability to read and write the Arabic language helped guarantee her rapid success. Another client born in Eastern Europe opened a practice in a large mid-western city that had a population of nearly one million Polish-speaking Americans. In both cases, my company got these clients involved in the foreign-language newspapers, churches, schools, senior citizen organizations and social societies.

Race. If you're located in an area that has a large African-American population, pay special attention to the higher incidence of glaucoma, hypertension and heart disease. Statistics indicate that the life expectancy of African-American males is well below that of Caucasian males. This is a great opportunity to teach prevention, nutrition, fitness and supplementation to the social organizations, churches and schools.

Presbyopia. There are 90 million presbyopes in the United States [[according to?]]. I've read that one third of our population is more than 40 years of age. Our country has never experienced "the graying of America" at this level. If you are in an area with high numbers of the "over 40" group, pay special attention to progressive addition lenses, conductive keratoplasty, bifocal contact lenses, dry eye syndrome and prevention. The service organizations, chamber of commerce and business connection groups are great contacts to help get your message out.

Aging Americans. In an area that is heavily Medicare dependent, doctors need to make contact with senior citizen organizations. Volunteer to speak at their meetings. Concentrate on the medical aspects that are most prevalent in patients 65 and over. Cataracts, macular degeneration, visual field loss and glaucoma are topics that you must cover. Medical procedures such as conductive keratoplasty and accommodative implants are interesting to this age group; management of systemic conditions such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are critical.

The medical community in many instances ignore prevention and wellness. Take the preventive banner and educate, motivate and make the seniors enthusiastic about this topic. Churches many times have special educational programs for seniors that you can get involved in. If there is senior citizen housing, the manager coordinates educational programs and is in need of participants; be sure to contact him or her and volunteer.

Build on the numbers

Using demographics can be a great practice builder if viewed in the broad spectrum as discussed above. Optometry has so much to offer, but it must push out and make things happen to render the greatest benefit from the demographics.

Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies. for information, call (800) 745-eyes or e-mail him at

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2006