BEST CONTACT LENS PRACTICES
Elements of a Successful Contact Lens Practice
Successful practices incorporate different components to create a practice that draws and maintains patients.
By Powers Griffin, OD, FAAO
Consistent growth and steady referrals are just two of many benchmarks that help define today's successful contact lens practice. In fact, there are several common threads some more obvious than others found among the most thriving contact lens practices. Many of them require only a small amount of effort to develop. Best of all, making even small changes will put new energy into your practice and help invigorate your staff.
Upgrade to New Technology
You wouldn't expect a primary care physician to prescribe an old antibiotic if a newer and safer drug was available. Innovations in contact lenses as medical devices are no different. Top doctors in their field always stay current with the benefits of new technology and don't shy away from presenting it to their patients when appropriate.
Offering new technology can be challenging. Understanding the new materials alone takes time and experience. How does a given lens' oxygen transmissibility, material flexibility, moisture retention and optical characteristics stack up against other lenses on the market? Does personal clinical experience align with marketing claims? Even details as mundane as recommending the appropriate wearing time and cleaning regimen are important to success. You must have a firm grasp on these issues to make an informed, and ultimately beneficial, recommendation.
With the rapid influx of new lens materials and cleaning regimens, it's easy to offer patients something new at each annual visit. Doing so adds to the perception that your office is current and that you're concerned about long-term ocular health. Simply put, give your patients a reason to come in each year and they'll be more inclined to return for their yearly exams and to refer their friends and family.
Knowledgeable, Pleasant Staff
All of the members of your team should be familiar with new contact lenses, their benefits, wear schedules and cost. Your staff is on the front line for questions prompted by information presented in the waiting room, by friends and neighbors and by industry advertising. Your office should work seamlessly as a team, from the initial phone call to check out. Information given verbally should be consistent between all team members and presented in a respectful manner.
Your best avenue for staff education is through staff meetings. It's the one place you can get everyone on the same page at the same time. The most successful practices hold regular staff meetings.
We hold meetings monthly, blocking our schedules from 8 am to 9:30 am. This obviously cuts into patient time, but we feel the importance of the meetings outweighs the patient care time lost. Obviously, we compensate staff for their time attending the meeting.
Announce the topic for each meeting in advance so your staff knows what to expect, and come prepared to listen. It's easy to have an unproductive and boring staff meeting. It's a true challenge to make meetings informative and enjoyable. Embrace this challenge.
Staff meetings are the perfect platform to educate your staff about what you consider important to patient care. Use the time to explain the relationship between oxygen and corneal health, the importance of matching the appropriate cleaning regimen to the contact lens material and the benefits of new contact lens products. A great staff has a thirst for knowledge, and top practices continuously educate to quench this thirst.
Nothing spoils the positive impacts of new lens technology and of a visit to your office more than does office inefficiency. Today's patients appreciate efficiency and an office that respects their time. Let's not forget that patients often must take time off work or arrange childcare to fit a visit to your office into their schedule. Long waits and wasted time will drive patients to offices that are better managed or to the Internet to buy what they're looking for.
An efficiently run office that uses staff effectively will send a powerful message to your patients that you value them and their time. For example, you can easily eliminate a second visit by performing the contact lens fitting immediately after the exam. Use staff to apply diagnostic lenses, measure visual acuity, perform auto-refraction, explain fees, handle follow-up visits and talk about lens care. Including staff in this manner dramatically improves efficiency without compromising ocular health or vision. Learn to delegate. The most successful businesses in the world apply this concept to their office with positive results.
Make a Recommendation
Another way to improve office efficiency is to always be prepared to present your patient a recommended lens choice for common scenarios. Have a lens of choice for teenagers, dry eyes, presbyopes, heavy computer users, social wear, astigmats of all types, allergy prone patients, neovascularization rehabilitation and patients interested in colored lenses. You can dramatically improve efficiency by addressing the primary issue and communicating it directly and concisely to your patient.
It's not uncommon for a patient to come in with a preconceived idea about the lens he wants. Understanding your patient's needs and expectations should guide your treatment recommendation. Strive to take a patient's preconceived want, put it together with visual requirements and health needs and develop a positive plan of action. Successful practices are made up of such committed and talented people.
Successful practices are also profitable practices. Optometry is unique in the healthcare system because we provide both a professional service and a retail "product." Offices that flourish have found a way to balance the two.
Patients today are much more price savvy than they were 20 years ago. We live in the information age. Patients are more informed about their options and have the capability to easily comparison shop. Not all your patients are looking for the lowest price. Many are looking for value. Value means different things to different people. For some, it's the lowest price. For others, it's home delivery, convenient office hours and parking, expert advice or uncomplicated exchanges. As consumers, our patients are doing nothing differently from what we do ourselves. We look for the best product, with the best service, at the most competitive price.
Successful practices are the ones that do their best to make patients feel comfortable by presenting a respectful, knowledgeable and helpful staff and a pleasant and clean office environment, all at a fair price. Patients, as consumers, will choose to do business where they are comfortable.
Present a Pleasant Atmosphere
Put yourself in your patient's shoes. Sit in your waiting room; is it clean? How old are the magazines? Walk up to the reception desk; is it cluttered? Look into your front windows at night. Is it clean, presentable and inviting? Are there lights on? Is your sign readable and well lit?
Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make. Every dollar you spend on dressing up your practice image will come back to you tenfold. A little paint, new carpet and updated magazines will all have an impact on your patient's perception of you and your practice. It also says something about how you value your patients and has the additional benefit of improving staff morale.
Communication is Key
Listening is an art that you and your staff need to cultivate for your practice to grow and be successful. It's often said that the hardest thing about good communication is listening. Listening to your patients' chief complaints, their wants and their expectations is an excellent way to establish good communication with them.
It sounds easy enough, but finding the time to be a good listener can prove extremely difficult in the midst of a very busy day. The most successful offices make time to listen. Once again, staff can be the key. Empowering staff to take on more patient care will provide more time to listen. Doing so will communicate volumes about how you value your patients.
Good communication goes beyond the exam room. Newsletters, phone calls and Web sites are just some ways you can build your relationship with your patients. Patients today expect and want to be kept informed, and you shouldn't disappoint them.
Make Room for Emergencies
If you fit contact lenses, you'll have emergencies. Corneal infiltrates, abrasions, lenses stuck under eyelids, acute redness, etc., are all examples of patient emergencies that you might encounter. What we might consider as the smallest problem can be perceived as a major sight-threatening emergency by a patient or a member of his family.
Address all emergencies as worst-case scenarios until proven otherwise. Making yourself available after hours and on weekends goes with the responsibility of being a contact lens practitioner. Successful practices look at emergencies as ways to strengthen patient relationships. The relief felt by a worried patient when he can reach you after hours and on weekends speaks volumes about your care.
Use Manufacturers' Expertise
It's better to know a lot about a few lenses than a little about many. If you limit the companies you do business with, you'll find that the level of service you receive from those companies will increase. Choose companies who are willing to commit resources to your practice co-op money and marketing dollars. Marketing is vital in today's business.
Take advantage of free informational evenings offered by the contact lens industry. These sessions not only provide you with new information, they also provide you the opportunity to network with colleagues.
A successful contact lens practice doesn't just happen. You have to seriously want it and work toward that goal. Being knowledgeable about new products, providing a comfortable, professional environment, effectively utilizing and empowering your staff, valuing good communications and being an active member of the professional community are all important elements that can lead to strong growth and referrals. Successful practices incorporate these many different components to create an environment that will draw and maintain patients, resulting in a practice that is more successful as both a healthcare provider and a business.
Dr. Griffin is in group practice with his two brothers in Laguna Niguel and San Clemente, CA. He practices general optometry with an emphasis in contact lenses. His practice has participated in clinical studies and FDA trials for newer contact lens designs and materials. He has lectured and published several articles on contact lenses.