The first five points in this series were presented last week and I'll continue here to share some concepts about adding an associate optometrist to your practice. Please review Tip #537 in the archive for the complete set.
Decide on the schedule that is best for the practice. When you reach the point of bringing on an employed OD, it is a perfect time to reconsider your office hours. Many practice owners build their practice around hours that cater to the owner and perhaps to the staff, but are not extremely convenient for patients. Adding an associate doctor is a perfect opportunity to expand the hours. Evenings and Saturdays are the easiest appointments to fill and they offer a great way to move patients to the new doctor.
Have an employment agreement including a restrictive covenant. Assuming you are just hiring an OD as an employee, as described in last week's tip, you should have a basic written understanding. You can decide if you need an attorney to draft this agreement or if you want to keep it simple and just write your own letter of understanding. Of course, if the new doctor will be a partner, I strongly recommend both parties have legal counsel.
Provide for observation and training. The associate doctor will have outstanding professional training and can begin to care for patients right away, but your practice has hundreds of policies and procedures that will take time to learn, and most of these are not written down. A good face to face discussion with the senior doctor and with the office manager can cover many important points. I also find that much can be gained by having the associate OD observe the staff in pretesting and the senior doctor examining patients. Additionally, I like the new doctor to observe and even participate in optical dispensing when possible.
Don't micromanage cases. I think it is important to separate practice activities, which are best if handled the same for all doctors, and patient care activities, which can be managed differently by different doctors. Part of being a good employer of a doctor is to respect his or her professional judgment and not expect every case to be treated exactly the way you would.
Meet often and talk freely. I think it is very important for the doctors to communicate. This could be to review cases and clinical management or it could be to discuss the business aspects of the practice. Even though the associate is an employee and may not have as much interest in practice management as the owner, he or she should understand that business is still part of the job. I stress that all I expect is that the associate OD practice the best eye care. That is the goal. The doctor should not focus on what is the cheapest for the patient. We should not prejudge a patient's ability to opt for quality services and products.
Review production data and surveys. One of the best metrics for evaluating a new doctor's performance is gross revenue per exam. This benchmark is good because it removes the lower patient volume we expect to see for the new doctor and expresses revenue per patient. Simply take the collected gross revenue for the month and divide by the number of comprehensive exams. I measure this data for the practice as a whole, for me individually and for each associate OD. Comparing the performance of each doctor speaks volumes. If the associate has a much lower figure than the practice owner, they should examine individual cases to see where the difference lies. It is also important to gauge patient satisfaction with the new doctor. Use one of the electronic marketing firms that offer patient surveys via email after each exam.
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.