I hope you are making plans to attend a couple of conferences this year. You might wonder how this advice qualifies as a practice management tip, but it does because I mean to encourage you to attend as a form of inspiration to do great things in your practice. Optometric conferences offer much more than continuing education credits (CE)! Many colleagues get most of their CE online or at local meetings and never venture to a national meeting. Doctors who stay home might think they are saving the cost of air travel, hotels and the lost revenue production, but the interaction with other eye care professionals and vendors will provide a very real financial return on that investment.
Read on for my tips on attending national optometric conferences.
Choose a meeting
The largest conferences are the AOA (Optometry’s Meeting), Vision Expo East, Vision Expo West, SECO and AAO (Academy of Optometry). Any of these are excellent choices to provide the professional stimulation I want you to receive. There are also some regional meetings and the larger alliance groups host conferences that focus on practice management and generating big ideas. Do some research online and make a list of the meetings with dates and locations and decide which ones you will attend.
What about lost revenue?
A few days out of your office will generally not cost you anything in lost revenue. Very few practices are that busy! I realize there will be little or no revenue coming in on the days the doctor is away, but those patients will still be seen. Some will be seen before and some after the break. Those days will be more productive than usual. It may take a few weeks to catch up with the cash flow, but you should have a cash reserve to handle that. In the end, the difference in revenue and profit will be minimal.
You do not need a fill-in doctor in most cases. You could ask for staff members to volunteer to take some personal days off without pay and you will probably get some takers, but otherwise, think up some projects for the staff to work on while you are away.
Get the most out of the conference
Don’t think of the conference as just a place to get CE credit and proceed to fill up your days with medical courses. Register for practice management courses and other industry events even though your state may not accept them for CE credit. These presentations will make you think about your practice differently; the speakers will present exciting new concepts. Take a lot of notes and design an action plan. Realize that the biggest challenge in practice management is execution of new ideas. Meet with your staff as soon as you get back to the office and implement some changes.
Leave large blocks of time completely unscheduled so you can walk the exhibit hall. It takes hours, but some of the best education occurs there and it is completely free. Stop and talk to vendors and learn about the new instruments or software systems you have heard about, but really don’t know much about. Ask industry representatives about contact lenses, ophthalmic lenses, frames, and pharmaceuticals. Don’t be worried in the least that a question might sound dumb; vendors will be thrilled to just talk to you!
I really don’t know what will strike your fancy in the exhibit hall, but I assure you there will be dozens of great ideas that will make you more efficient, increase profitability and improve staff morale. The collective wisdom in that exhibit hall is amazing and you should let it work for you. Sure, vendors want to sell you stuff, but most of that stuff will work as advertised and will be good for your practice. Build your own wish list and pick something to invest in.
Finally, try to create opportunities to talk to fellow ODs. This may be old classmates or strike up a conversation with a stranger over lunch, coffee or at a bar. Ask about their practice and listen to what they are doing. Share things that are challenging for you and see how they manage it.
The best thing about an optometric conference is not the CE! See you there!