The biggest problem facing optometrists today is that they are not busy enough. There are certainly exceptions to that statement and those doctors who have more patients than they can handle may not always agree with this, but from my point of view they are blessed. Sadly, many optometrists who are not that busy have come to accept the meager patient demand and rationalize that it is enough.
Of course, there are only so many patients to go around and not every optometrist can be super-busy. But there are always some optometrists in every market who have achieved excellent practice growth and very high production. Why not you? We can hope the Affordable Care Act will be our savior and bring us lots more patients, but I have plenty of concern that the fee levels of these insurance plans will be at the Medicaid level.
Review your current production and
Let’s start this growth project by looking hard at your practice production numbers and deciding if your current strategies are working. The average full time optometrist in the U.S. produces collected gross revenue of about $650,000. If that is average, you want to set your production goal higher than that; I think at least $800,000 per full time equivalent (FTE) OD is a good goal and many practices well exceed that. If you are already at that level, congratulations and your next decision may be to add another optometrist and try to double that gross revenue.
If you are not at the $800,000 level, that could still be fine if you are showing strong growth from year to year. In the early years of a practice, growth rate can be very strong, often 30 to 50%, but as revenue increases, the growth rate typically slows. If your annual practice revenue is below $800,000 and you are not seeing at least 10% growth each year, read on for my four point plan for increasing your patient demand and ultimately, your profitability.
Review your market strategy
Many optometrists have never really thought about their market strategy very much, but it is a good idea to consider it in relation to the community you practice in, the demographics, median household income, local eye care competition, office environment, practice image and other factors. If your current strategy has not worked as well as you would like, begin to work on changing it. If you started with a boutique optical image and it has not done well, you could convert to a medical eye care model. If you tried to be upscale but the community has not responded, you may need to appear more approachable and affordable. If you have a practice name that is aimed at pediatrics, you may need to become known for caring for all age groups.
An adjustment in your market strategy can be easier than you think. Consider modifying your practice name while retaining some elements of the old brand. Freshen up your logo, invest in new signage, and focus on the new image in your marketing efforts.
Be certain customer service and convenience are excellent
A practice that does not have enough patient demand could have a problem with customer service and patient satisfaction. The patient experience in your office is a huge factor that relates to word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business. Evaluate your staff and the culture of your office. Culture starts with the leaders of the organization, so re-examine how you feel about working with the public and the message you send to staff behind the scenes when you talk about patients and the business challenges you face.
Review your office policies and try to change them to be more patient friendly. Set your policies as much as possible to satisfy the patients’ wants and needs; not yours or your staff’s. Part of customer service is convenience: do you have some evening and Saturday hours? Are you open during the lunch hour? Are you almost always on time for appointments?
Work on marketing
If you need more patient demand, I would review your marketing plan. This should include your practice website, use of social media, email communication, recall methods, reactivation phone calls, special events (like trunk shows and patient seminars), professional referrals, and community outreach.
Consider accepting more vision plans
While not very popular in many circles, if you have worked on all the factors above and still have moderate to low patient demand, it may be time to rethink your strategy with vision plans. Many optometrists have felt it was best to not become a provider for certain plans, but in some cases (ironically) that decision is hurting them.
Is your decision to not participate based on what is good for our profession or what is good for your practice? Vision plans have such a huge network of willing providers, it is very unlikely that abstaining will hurt them in any way. Work with the AOA and other organizations to fight for a level playing field.
There are many misconceptions about vision plans. Most optometrists react emotionally and don’t really know the facts.
No matter how good your practice is, if you are not a network provider for their insurance, most people will not choose you for their eye care, unless you have a very low-priced business model.
When people call your office, what vision plan do they ask about that you do not accept? Ask your staff.
Accepting vision plans can give you access to a large number of patients, many of whom will need medical eye care and will have their services billed to medical insurance plans.
It is definitely possible to make a profit with all vision plans and with the right strategies, that profit can be increased. I accept most plans in my practice and I’ve analyzed the profitability of each one.
I don’t advocate all vision plans for all practices, but most practices need more patients.
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.