GROW YOUR BUSINESS
10 STEPS TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS
INVEST IN YOUR PRACTICE NOW, AND REAP THE REWARDS FOR YEARS TO COME
CHAD FLEMING, O.D., F.A.A.O.
OPTOMETRY HAS traditionally been a service profession in which success and growth is stimulated by word-of-mouth marketing and providing patients with great clinical care. And though this remains true today, it is only part of a larger strategic growth plan.
Many optometrists like to discuss the opportunities to grow their practice, but few map out a plan — and then implement that plan — with an intentional goal of calculated growth. It is no accident that some practices are growing exponentially while others are trying to stay afloat. All practices must invest in future growth. Without it, the practice stagnates and loses interest from the general public to utilize its services and it loses value for future buyers.
There are many ways to grow a practice both internally and externally. Here, I provide 10 tried-and-true approaches to stimulate practice growth.
1 INVEST IN ONLINE MARKETING SERVICES
Investing in web services can provide greater practice visibility. I suggest choosing a company that specializes in eyecare web design and optimization. We opted for one that has a specialty team for optometry, so all content created for our website is eyecare specific. This means our practice moves to the top of search engines. We have seen tremendous growth as a result. In fact, we average three to five new patients per week from online searches, most of whom are private-pay or medical insurance only, as they tend to be the ones “shopping” for a doctor instead of going off a list of providers from their vision insurance.
2 UTILIZE EVERY DOOR DIRECT MAILING (EDDM)
EDDM is a service provided by the U.S. Postal Service that allows you to reach potential patients near your business. To send a mailing, such as the postcard, visit eddm.usps.com, and choose your target zip code(s). A cover sheet is generated that is then put on the stack of postcards that you want delivered. Our most recent EDDM included 1,700 residential homes and cost about $0.17 per postcard. It’s a small price with a big potential payoff.
3 INTERACT WITH THE COMMUNITY
Community engagement can be accomplished in the following ways:
• Social media. By being a part of online communities, you remind people you exist. That is the simplest reason to be present on social media. It is very difficult to measure your return on investment. However, when someone is asking for an opinion about eye care on Twitter and you are the first one their friends think to recommend, it validates your online efforts.
Also, you can easily promote your products and services, and actively educate your patients when they have a question. Just remember to keep your answers general, as you do not want to engage in diagnosis, treatment plans or management on social media. If questions arise that are patient specific, you should recommend consulting an optometrist.
• Health fairs. There is no better marketing opportunity than meeting people face to face. It may be considered old school, but people will bond with you when they can put a name with a personality and face. Many businesses have small health fairs; ask around, and get involved. I would recommend calling your local energy company or Internet service provider, and ask to speak with the human resource department. Let them know who you are, and ask them what opportunities they have to educate their employees about the importance of eye care.
• Educational opportunities. Have your staff call different organizations, such as schools and senior communities in the area, and see whether they would be interested in having an eye doctor speak to them about eye health. I started speaking at the American Academy of Professional Coders annual meeting in my area and after a couple of years, I had at least 15 of their members coming to see me for their care. You don’t have to be a dynamic speaker, just a willing one.
4 EMPLOY PATIENT COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE
As a practicing optometrist managing two locations and 20-plus staff, I have experienced practice growth directly due to utilizing patient relationship management software. Two of my favorite features include:
• Recall. When patients are trained to return for care, they begin to depend on your office for recall notifications and alerts. In the last three years, our patient management software and our EHR did not sync properly a couple times, and the results revealed that many no-shows are prevented by utilizing recall technology.
• Recare. The system mines your practice database looking for patients who have not been seen by your practice in the last two years. It collects those names and then contacts them through email, text or phone. Recare reminds these patients of the importance of regular eye care and gives them the opportunity to schedule an appointment. Our practice used to employ one person to go through all our paper charts and do this throughout the year. With EHRs and patient management software, this is done automatically with great results. My practice averages three to five patients per week from this data mining.
5 FOCUS ON STAFF TRAINING
To grow your practice, you must invest in staff. This includes encouraging and paying for continued education for both paraoptometric technicians and opticians. One tip for growth: Schedule two training camps per month where you provide staff with tools for better patient care, such as training on scheduling. Use one of your staff to put together a “10 best practices for scheduling patients,” and present that to the rest of the staff.
Your vendors can also be a great educational resource for your staff to learn more about the products and services you provide. Just be clear that you want education and not a promotional event. Most vendors are more than happy to help.
6 CREATE AN INTEGRATED EYECARE NETWORK
This is one of the most promising areas of growth, especially for the well-trained, young O.D. looking to practice medical optometry. The schools and colleges of optometry have been and continue to graduate new O.D.s versed in acute care, disease management and medicine of the eye.
By actively communicating with primary care doctors and successful ophthalmic practices, your office can create an integrated eyecare network. This starts with an ophthalmology referral center as the hub and optometry practices as the spokes. Your practice remains independent, but acts like a very large group for negotiating Accountable Care Organization (ACO) contracts and for providing diabetes eye care for medical groups.
7 PRACTICE MEDICINE OF THE EYE
Practicing to the fullest scope of your licensure will provide you with opportunities to grow your practice through referrals from primary care physicians and word of mouth. Be sure your patients and those in your network know what services you provide.
One simple tip for building this area of your practice: Speak the language of medicine. Communicate with your patients in the examination room that you are doing both a vision and medical eye assessment.
If a patient returns to your office for a dry eye evaluation or calls for an acute care concern, the terminology that all staff and doctors repeat is, “medical eye encounter.” Then patients show up for their appointment stating, “I am here for a medical eye visit with Dr. Yarrow.” It starts with you clinically managing medical eye concerns and then utilizing words that reflect that.
8 BECOME AN EXPERT
We all have different areas of clinical care that we prefer more than others. You may have a great bedside manner with kids or love the challenge of a tough dry eye case. Regardless of your preference, growing a practice in the area of your interest(s) is not only personally rewarding, but it can have many financial advantages as well.
The most difficult aspect of acquiring expertise is that it takes time and patience. Pick an area of interest, read every journal, study on that topic, visit an established expert, communicate your interests among the O.D.s and M.D.s in your area, and watch your practice slowly grow throughout the years. A successful practice on the east coast that fits specialty contact lenses had to start somewhere, and understanding the process will help you reach success faster.
9 ADD AN ASSOCIATE O.D.
There are so many ways that adding an associate optometrist can build your practice. Not only will it provide more time in the schedule for patients to see a doctor, he or she can also assist with many of the other practice growth areas mentioned in this article, such as leading staff training camps.
Also, bringing on an associate O.D. with an interest or specialty different from your own can help widen your practice’s scope of care. For example, associate O.D.s can offer patients expertise in the area of children’s vision or specialty contact lenses.
Adding an associate O.D. is one of the best investments you can make to stimulate growth. The average O.D. makes approximately $48/hr. Start with an associate one to two days per week, and build from there. Talk to doctors who have done this successfully, and repeat what they did.
10 PREAPPOINT YOUR PATIENTS
When you recommend a next appointment, try to schedule it for the patient before he or she leaves your office. We know that most of us get busy, and six months quickly turns into 18 months, and so on.
By preappointing your patients, you will not only see them in a more appropriate time frame, but your schedule will remain robust. This results not only in continued growth, but it also reiterates the importance of your care, which illicits patient trust.
Growing a business doesn’t happen overnight; it takes hard work, careful planning and a consistent commitment to nurture long-term success. These steps should help guide you on the path to future growth. OM
CHAD FLEMING O.D., F.A.A.O. is co-owner of a private practice in Wichita, Kan. Along with practicing optometry, he coaches optometrists in buy/sell agreements, bringing in an associate, the business of EHRs, staff management and other business related topics. Dr. Fleming is the founder of OptometryCEO.com and is a consultant to Ocuhub, iMatrix, and SolutionReach. Visit tinyurl.com/OMcomment to comment on this article.