Optometrists today certainly have their share of challenges facing them, but in my opinion, most practices have one overriding problem and if we could fix it, we could solve all the other less pressing matters. The problem facing most ODs today is insufficient patient demand. Most of us are not busy enough. That may hurt our egos to admit and some practices simply adjust to it and see patients at a slow pace, but there are some steps you can take to remedy the situation. It may be true that there are not enough patients to make every optometrist busy, but some can be; you could be.
I should note that there are many optometric practices that have plenty of patient demand; maybe too much! Those are fairly rare, but I congratulate them and I love to study them. It is great fun to deal with the problem of too many patients! There are so many ways to manage that.
For the majority of optometrists who are not booked very far in advance or who do not see many patients per day, here are three factors to work on:
Referral of new patients by loyal established ones is still the biggest source of patients for most practices. All practices enjoy some of this word-of-mouth growth, but some ODs are masters at cultivating it while others get a basic trickle of referrals. The way to achieve maximum word-of-mouth is through excellence in customer service. It is the patient experience that results in that enthusiastic patient who wants to tell co-workers and friends about your practice. They become ongoing ambassadors and they also return more often and spend more money themselves.
Customer service is almost too well known as an important factor in successful business stories. I say too well known because it can be taken for granted while doctors and staff who think they are good in that area, can gradually let it fade into average. Practices with consistently friendly staff, that usually run on time, and offer lots of convenience for patients generate a high amount of word-of-mouth promotion.
Conventional wisdom among ODs in chat forums leans toward advising colleagues to stay away from vision plans, but judging from the number of providers for the plans, most of them must not take their own advice. The fact is that joining a vision plan can provide a large number of new patients fairly quickly. The fees and profits that are possible with vision plans are often poorly understood by ODs and I find they are generally better than widely believed. If the goal of the practice is to add associate optometrists, vision plans can keep their schedules full.
Becoming a provider gives you access to a large population that you would otherwise miss. You can provide basic vision care under the plan and many of these patients need medical eye care or other non-covered specialties.
Don’t evaluate vision plans on emotion or hearsay; look at it as a business decision.
Most ODs do very little marketing and should do more, but we’ve all had many marketing projects underperform and that makes you feel like “why bother?” Here are four marketing strategies that will work for you:
Spend money on a great website with professional photos and videos of your office and staff, not fake people.
Have an active business Facebook page with a lot of likes. This marketing tactic is free.
Subscribe and actively use one of the third party communication firms that pulls data from your software system (Solutionreach, Demandforce, Websystem3, 4PatientCare, etc.).
Donate money and spend staff time on community outreach. This is everything from local community service groups to chamber of commerce events to health fairs to career days at the schools. The overall cost is small and the impact is big.
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.