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Although I usually write this column with doctors in mind, it's no secret that many office managers and staff members read it every week. Indeed, many optometrists tell me they forward or print the articles for their staff. This week I'll write about a topic aimed at practice administrators, managers and key staff members, although I really don't mind if practice owners read it as well.
What is your primary job?
I presented a lecture seminar for eye care office managers a few weeks ago and I started with this question: what is your most important job? It was rhetorical, although I did ask the audience to give it some thought and come up with a mental answer before I would share my thoughts. The answer I was looking for is “producing income for the practice!” Office managers have many duties, but I doubt if many of them think about making money quite so bluntly. Yet earning revenue is the overriding goal of every business, and office managers are generally hired with the goal of running the business aspects of the practice.
I can understand if office managers don't focus on generating revenue as their primary goal for two reasons:
Their boss, the practice owning doctor, may not seem to focus on income all that much. I used the words “seem to” because I actually believe that practice owners care a great deal about generating higher incomes, but because they are professionals they often tone down that quest with staff.
Unless the office manager has a large ownership stake in the practice, there may not be much financial incentive to thinking like an owner. And even with some financial incentive programs, managers may not have enough freedom to think like a true owner; their role may be to follow the doctor's lead. It turns out that there are some big reasons why office managers should work hard to increase practice revenue, which I'll cover below.
I believe we should be extremely clear about the importance of generating revenue because if office managers understand that, they can help achieve it. I don't mean to imply that office managers aren't aware of the need for their practice to generate income, but many may not have the entrepreneurial spirit that drives extremely successful companies. Indeed, some of the hallmarks of successful companies could seem to be in conflict with a manager's personal needs. Convenient office hours including some evenings and Saturdays may be good for a practice, but some managers would rather not offer them. Seeing more patients per day is one of the most basic methods to increase practice income, but some staff would rather avoid it.
What is the biggest challenge in your job?
I think the biggest problem is lack of patient demand; simply not enough patients. If we had enough people calling our offices for appointments, many great things could happen. Having sufficient demand for services is the basic need in any business and it must precede the production of high income.
Great managers don't just wait for patients to call; they find creative ways to keep the appointment book full and booked well in advance. They know that word of mouth referral is the key to a successful practice and they continuously work to promote that.
The important stuff
Many eye care practitioners hire a manager because they can't devote enough time to the business side of the practice due to the important role they serve in clinical patient care. If that's true, then office managers must become true leaders of the practice. This means developing ideas that serve the needs of the business. The following are some examples.
Develop a practice culture that is passionate about customer service and adopt a “patient is always right” philosophy
Propose creative ways to see more patients per day
Teach staff members to sell services and products in a professional way
Foster better attitudes and improved morale among employees
Create and be prepared to manage new marketing ideas
Guide staff to avoid costly administrative errors
Reduce practice expenses in ways that do not reduce service or quality
What's in it for managers?
Are office managers truly part of the management team or are they part of the working staff? Some of both, maybe. I think good managers will develop a strong relationship with both owners and employees, but if career advancement and increases in salary are of interest, then achieving the goals of the company is uppermost. That can be done while maintaining a friendly and caring relationship with co-workers.
If an office manager is instrumental in increasing practice income and building a great practice, great rewards will follow. Believe me, the owner will notice.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.