My last Tip article focused on two quick tactics to add patients to your schedule, so this article will look at the bigger strategic picture of keeping your practice busy. I often say that the biggest problem facing optometrists today is lack of patient demand. If you had enough patients wanting your services, you could overcome almost any challenge. It is interesting to note that some optometric practices are extremely busy, maybe even too busy, while others are very slow and struggle to make a profit. If we analyze the busy practices, we can learn some valuable lessons about what made them that way.
Location, population, and competition are factors that can have a big impact on patient volume, but those should be considered before opening a practice. Once the practice is up and running, these aspects are difficult to control, so I will not cover them in this article. For our purposes, there are three main factors that bring patients to your office. Read on and ask yourself how well your practice performs in each area.
This has historically been the biggest and most important factor in practice growth: one satisfied patient telling his family, friends and co-workers. It occurs slowly at first, but grows exponentially and can become extremely powerful. Even in this age of marketing through social media and websites, word-of-mouth is still at the core of how it works. Even as we give credit to medical insurance and vision plans for bringing patients to us, word-of-mouth is underlying it because that leads to which provider patients choose.
All practices receive some benefit from word-of-mouth referral, but certain ones generate far more than others. The practices that get the most leverage from word-of-mouth referral are truly great in all aspects of customer service. They excel with intangibles like these:
Easy to do business with
Fast and convenient
The wow factor
The patient experience
The physical facility and decor
High quality services and products
Vision plans are so prevalent in the U.S. that they belong in a category all by themselves. Many ODs feel they are better off without vision plans, and that could be the case in some instances, but I also see many doctors make bad decisions about vision plans because they make them on emotion and not fact. I have analyzed the profitability of all the major vision plans and there are some widespread misconceptions about them. I have found that all vision plans generate some profit and it is often greater than the practice owner thinks. More importantly, vision plans bring large numbers of patients to your office and many of them need medical eye care or other non-covered services. Doctors who are not providers for a major vision plan see very few patients who are members of that plan.
A very important factor to consider in deciding if you should become a provider is how full is your appointment schedule? How many exams do you see per day on average? If you have appointment slots that are not filled or if you set up your schedule with relatively few slots per day, then even a low profit patient is better than no profit.
Aside from the two factors listed above, everything else can be put under the umbrella of marketing. Marketing offers huge potential to bring in more patient volume, yet most ODs take very little action in this area.
Marketing can be expensive and you should establish a reasonable budget (2% of collected gross revenue is a good start), but many projects are little or no cost. They do require time and commitment, however. They require someone to handle the details and logistics. Someone must do the planning. An ideal situation is when a doctor/owner works with and delegates the marketing details to a staff member who has some creative talent.
To get started in marketing, consider two broad areas that have worked well:
Community outreach. This is a big category that involves the doctor or some staff members donating time to community events. This could be vision screenings, career day at schools, providing an eye care booth at fund raising events, participating in chamber of commerce projects, civic organizations, charities, sponsoring youth clubs and sport teams, or parks and recreation events.
Host and promote events in your office. Frame fashion trunk shows can be big, but you could also host seminars on eye care topics or have sales and celebrations in your optical. Once you have planned the event, promote it on social media, with in-office signage and email blasts.
Do you feel like you don’t have enough staff to make these projects happen? Hire another full time employee and rearrange the job duties. You have to make growth happen.
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.