In my consulting work with optometrists, I frequently find office hours that are ideal for the OD and the staff members, but not very convenient for patients. Changing this is usually very difficult because the staff does not want to work evenings or Saturdays. In many cases, the OD does not want to either. Of course, this only matters if the practice wants to grow and generate more income. If the practice is already busy enough and already profitable enough, then it's fine to leave well enough alone. But if you want to grow, convenience factors are a big part of marketing.
There is a tendency to view the hours the office is open as quite personal, but let's view the practice as separate from the doctor and the current staff. Let's consider what is best for the practice and we can worry about staff later.
Convenient hours aid growth
In addition to normal business hours, which are generally regarded as Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, practices that are open some evenings and Saturdays generally grow faster and produce more income. Part of that is simply the fact that the practice is open more and therefore can see more patients in an average week. Some of those patient visits are by appointment for exams and some are just drop-in visits for optical dispensing or contact lenses. The other factor is the convenience aspect of evenings, Saturdays and early morning. These convenient hours are preferred by many patients who work or go to school and when your practice meets patient's wants and needs, you earn higher points for patient satisfaction and loyalty. You become easier to do business with.
The other big void in office hours for many optometric practices is the lunch hour. Many offices simply close during lunch because it is easier for staffing. It is not so easy for patients, however.
Of course, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm is a 40 hour week, so any additional hours must be managed with additional staff members and more complex scheduling.
Practice growth in phases
It is helpful to view the practice in growth stages and understand that there is a transition from one phase to the next. A new start-up practice can't afford a large staff so office hours must be limited. Even in the small to medium phase of practice size, we find many offices close on a weekday or on a half day. This allows the staff to work some additional convenience hours and not exceed 40 hours per week.
As a practice moves into the medium production phase (median practice gross revenue with one OD in the U.S. is about $680,000), the owner should make a decision: he or she can transition into a large practice or can hold back and stay small. A practice of this size has great potential to grow, especially if there is some degree of patient backlog (appointments scheduled in advance).
To take the practice to the next level, the owner should hire more employees and move to expanding office hours. A goal is set to not be closed any weekdays and to not close for lunch. There should be at least two evenings per week until 7pm and every Saturday (at least morning hours on Saturday). Many offices find that early morning appointments before 9am quite popular. These hours easily add up to over 50 per week.
As you expand office hours, you'll naturally need more staff, and this is a perfect opportunity to hire new people who will work the evenings and Saturdays. You may also find some of your existing staff would like a day off during the week and will work those hours. Each employee is different and if you speak with each one individually, you may find some way to reward those who want to help the practice move forward.
This is also the perfect time to hire an associate OD if you have some patient demand. Again, I'd only accept ODs willing to work two evenings per week and every Saturday. I find ODs and staff members easily accept these hours during the hiring process. After hiring a new OD, the senior doctor may want to cut back on his or her patient care hours and spend more time on practice management.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week