I've been involved in practice management education in every conceivable format from formal courses in optometry school to major eye care conferences to one-on-one consulting, and the most powerful resource I've ever encountered is a small study group of optometrists. Study groups are also called peer groups or roundtable networks, but the point is that a group of eight to twelve like-minded doctors meets in a neutral setting like a hotel conference room with the goal of helping one another and learning from one another. Office manager groups can also be very beneficial.
I've belonged to the same study group for over 20 years and I have learned more from my fellow group members than I can possibly describe. It is not only an excellent learning experience, but it is great fun. A five hour meeting seems to fly by! The management strategies and clinical pearls are easy to implement because you learned it from someone who is actually doing it. You become motivated to try new things because you can feel the passion in someone who has seen it work well.
Finding a group
It can be a bit tricky finding a group to join. You kind of have to be asked. You could always start your own group and ask some friends and former classmates to join and have each of them ask a few more people. You could also seek a consulting firm or doctor's alliance that organizes and facilitates study groups.
It's best to be in a group where none of the doctors are from the same geographical location. Study groups depend on complete and open sharing of data and strategies and that won't happen if competitors are in the room. This is why regional meetings don't work as well as national ones.
There is some advantage to being in a group of doctors who all have similar practices, but there is also much to be learned from doctors who do things differently.
Mixing modes of practice, age groups, gender, revenue levels and other variables can be very eye opening and productive.
Organizing the hotel, meeting space, food and beverage service and many other details can be a chore. The job can be rotated among the members.
It is usually best to meet every six months.
Members of the group may share financial data and bring a packet of printed materials to pass out to the others.
It may be possible to get some industry support for study group meetings.
You may find that you're not perfectly compatible with every member of your group and wish you could join a new group.
Time can go by very quickly in a study group. One good way to begin the meeting is to go around the table and have each member describe what is new in his or her practice. If this is a new group an introduction to the practice and the owner is shared. If each doctor talked for only 15 minutes and there were questions for five minutes, it would take 240 minutes or four hours to cover 12 members! And we didn't even start on the actual agenda yet!
Most groups operate in a very flexible and casual manner and the discussion goes wherever the interest of the group takes it. One member serves as the moderator or facilitator to keep the flow moving. It is common for members to take notes on paper or laptops.
Typically the group or an organizer will submit agenda topics in advance. The topics can be practice management or clinical and in many cases they span both at once. The group members should look at each agenda item as a topic that one could either present on or learn more about. Each member could suggest a topic to offer expertise or to ask questions of the others.
Location and cost
Most groups move the location of the meetings to various destinations. Consider these aspects when choosing a location:
Convenience of large airports for easy travel.
Warm weather during winter months.
Fun destinations in the U.S. and other countries.
Golf or spa destinations.
Rotating through the home cities of members so a tour of that practice can be on the agenda.
In conjunction with a large or small eye care conference.
There is typically some travel cost involved in these semi-annual meetings, but it is tax deductible and study group veterans say it is a very sound investment for building a better practice.
If you want to be in a study group and don't know how to go about it, email me and I'll be happy to assist.
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.