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I recently wrote about how to manage the wonderful problem of having too many
appointments booked far in advance. That situation really does happen, but the
far more common problem is at the other end of the scale: not enough
appointments. For doctors who are just opening new offices or for any practice
with too few patients, here are some ideas on how to increase the patient load.
Word of mouth is slow but sure
The best way to build a practice is through word of mouth referral by happy
patients telling others about your practice. By becoming obsessed with excellent
patient service you will build loyalty, which is the highest level of
satisfaction. This must be much more than providing good clinical services. You
and your staff must demonstrate that you really care about people on a personal
level. Your practice must stand out from all others. Word of mouth doesn’t do
much good if you just opened a new office, since there is no one to tell others,
but ensuring excellent service is still the first step for a practice that is
not busy enough. When patients do use your services, you need to give them
compelling reasons to talk about you.
Advertising in the local newspaper or in other media such as radio, TV and
billboards can all be effective. It can also be a break even effort or worse,
where the net income derived from the campaign is less than or equal to the cost
of the ads.
For new practices, I recommend a professional announcement ad that might run
three times per week for one month. This ad would list the practice name and
logo, the doctor’s name with photograph, the services offered, and the managed
care plans accepted. In addition to the ad, I would send a press release and
follow-up with the business editor to have an article written about the
practice. Many newspapers have a regular feature that profiles new businesses.
Try to include action photos of the doctor and some instrumentation. It is often
easier to get an article accepted when you are also negotiating to run a paid
ad. Ask the newspaper advertising representative for assistance.
I don’t typically recommend any discounting at all, but if a practice really
needs a boost in volume and revenue, it must give the consumer a reason to act.
A discount certificate sent by direct mail is quite effective. It could be sent
to the patient base if there is one, or many printing companies can provide zip
code data bases that allow you to send to each household. I have found success
when a specific dollar amount is given as a discount rather than a percentage.
For example, you might send two certificates, one which is good for $25 off an
eye exam and the other good for $50 off a complete pair of glasses. A person
could use both and save $75. The higher your usual fees are, the less impact
this discount will have. Be sure to include a notation of the expiration date of
the offer, that the offer may not be used with vision plans or other discounts,
and that the patient must present certificate at time of exam or eyeglass order.
There is one additional way to build a practice that should not be overlooked.
It is the business networking that comes from being active in your community.
The business benefits should be viewed as a nice secondary bonus for giving your
time in public service. Consider these options:
Join a service organization like Rotary, Lions Club, Kiwanis or others.
Be active in your church or synagogue.
Join civic groups like the chamber of commerce or Jaycees.
Participate in youth sports.
Participate in your children’s school functions
Offer to give speeches on some aspect of the eye and vision for
community organizations which need programs.
Participate in health fairs and career days.
Finally, be sure to drop in and say hello to local optometrists, general
ophthalmologists, retinal specialists, opticians, pharmacists, general
physicians, chiropractors, school nurses, nursing home administrators and other
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.