Article Date: 12/1/2006

practice makeovers
Makeovers: Unveiling the Secrets to Successful Practice Redesigns

A redesign becomes a transformation for this Kentucky practice.

For the redesign, Dr. Fife chose most of the furniture and artwork herself.

Twenty years ago, Sally Fife, O.D., opened her first practice in Henderson, a town located on the banks of the Ohio River in the western part of Kentucky. Henderson is known for its John James Audubon Museum, historic walking tours (during tobacco's heyday, Henderson was the richest town per capita in the United States), outdoor sports and the annual W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue festival.

Dr. Fife describes her original 2,200-square-foot office as "quaint." A residential home built in the 1920's, the office included two lanes and a contact lens/dispensary area.

But the old-fashioned appearance of the office's exterior was deceptive. Dr. Fife's practice grew from its earliest years. In a sportsmen's paradise, the practice became known as the place to purchase prescription Oakley eyewear. Sixteen years ago, Dr. Fife incorporated a low vision specialty into the practice. The staff's dedication to patient care ensured that the general optometric practice would continue to grow through a combination of loyal patients and referrals.

Success led to a practice "that was bursting at the seams," recalls Dr. Fife. Patients who preferred prime office times often had to schedule appointments six to eight weeks in advance. While the low vision specialty attracted more elderly patients, the office lacked wheel chair accessibility. The practice "was too small to adequately take care of the needs of our patients," says Dr. Fife.

"It was evident another O.D. was needed," she continues. "An office remodel and expansion was necessary to accommodate another doctor and to allow for practice growth." 

The time to invest

The new office includes Tuscany-style stucco walls, a wrought iron staircase, wood floors and unique lighting fixtures.

In 2002, Dr. Fife invested $500,000 in an expansion. The office increased in size from 2,200 sq. ft. to 6,000 sq. ft. "We were able to accommodate six exam lanes, large contact lens training and dispensing areas, appropriate rooms for visual fields and pre-testing," says Dr. Fife. A second O.D. and part time ophthalmologist now allow patients greater access to specialized care as well as a shorter waiting time for  appointments.

The dispensary itself grew to nearly three times its original size, allowing the practice to display a wider variety of frame and sunglass selections. An in-office computer allows patients to search for eyewear online.

While the additional space was critical, the redesign has given Dr. Fife's practice something more: a new identity. The interior design with Tuscany-style stucco walls, wrought iron staircases, wood floors and unique lighting fixtures were all part of Dr. Fife's interior design vision. She chose most of the furniture and artwork herself.

Quantifying results

From a management standpoint, the results of the redesign were significant. Total revenues grew from approximately $600,000 in 2002 to $1 million in 2006. Prior to the remodel, the practice saw over 6,000 patients, averaging 26 per day in 2002. In 2006, the practice will see 8,300 plus patients, or an average of 33 per day.

With the redesign, Dr. Fife doubled the area of her practice's dispensary.

"By far, the greatest benefit has been the improvements for handicapped patients," says Dr. Fife. Patients in wheelchairs are welcomed with wider hallways, and wheel chair accessible ramps. "We added wheel chair accessible equipment in pre-testing and a new exam room to provide easier access for those patients who are unable to be moved to the exam chair," says Dr. Fife.

The practice now sees three or four additional low vision patients each month.

The optical has improved significantly. "We now have more space to accommodate the large display cases that Oakley and other frame companies provide," says Dr. Fife. With the remodel, the number of dispensing areas increased from two to four. Dr. Fife estimates that dispensary sales have grown 25% to 35% since the redesign.

The staff now includes one full-time optometrist (Dr. Fife), a part-time O.D. (Dr. Charles Heck) who practices two days a week, two employees at the reception/collection areas, one in insurance, two dispensing opticians, one lab optician and three optometric assistants. A local ophthalmologist brings his own staff and sees patients on Friday afternoons.

"Our qualified staff's patient care combined with the office redesign have created marketing opportunities," she says. The office has been named "Best Optometric Practice" in the Henderson area for the past four years.

The office has become a local attraction. People stop by to take pictures and patients bring friends to tour the French Country interior decor. It has also bolstered civic pride. "The invest- ment shows a great deal of optimism for the future growth of our city," says Dr. Fife.

The rewards

"Nothing but positive outcomes have resulted from the redesign project," says Dr. Fife. "Patient satisfaction and appreciation have been most rewarding. Employee morale is high, as we are able to offer a beautiful office setting in which patients receive the highest quality eye care."

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2006