I recently had the honor of hosting my local IDOC members in our first in person roundtable dinner in 3 years. While it has been great to connect on Zoom, it was so energizing to be sharing ideas over dinner live. My group varied from very established, experienced doctors to one going through the IDOC Kick Start program who was just starting on her journey. One of the biggest takeaways from the meeting for me was really realizing how many services we as optometrists provide, and how we can grow our practices simply by letting more people know what we do.
We know what we do, but who else knows?
How did this topic come up? Our new member was polling the group for ideas to attract new patients, outside of taking more vision plans. We got into a great discussion about how many of us reach out to other providers in our area to let them know how we could help their patients. While many of us did this early in our careers, or when starting a practice cold, many of us have fallen out of communication with other providers as we get busy running our offices. What lessons and tips did I learn that could be useful for ALL providers- including those with cold starts, those looking to add an associate to increase revenue, associates looking to build up their schedule, and those who have been practicing for awhile and are looking to be re-energized? Talk about what you can do – to everyone!
Networking for new patients
One of my favorite tips for new practices looking to gain patients, or those looking to grow their schedule is to visit all the urgent care offices in your area and drop off business cards. When I first joined my practice and was looking to build my book, I googled all the urgent care and walk in offices that were close by and paid a visit to each one. I let them know I was more than happy to see any and all of the emergency patients that they weren’t comfortable treating or needed to follow up after being triaged. Most urgent care facilities are happy to turn over ocular emergency patients to us or give patients our information as a place to continue care. Even the urgent care doctor at one of these practices became my patient! Most of them do not realize we have the capability and expertise to manage these patients. If they are unsure where to send them, they will often refer to the emergency room. Our practices benefit by increasing our patient flow and revenue, and patients benefit by being provided with timely, professional care.
A few years ago, I had a patient call my office and tell my staff he was referred by one of the local MDs to see me for a red eye. I was blown away; I had worked hard to try and get referrals from our local primary care doctors, but found they still tended to send their patients to ophthalmologists. After diagnosing the patient with a subconjunctival hemorrhage, I decided to take the few minutes and call the referring physician directly to thank him for his referral and let him know the status of his patient. This five-minute phone call was one of the most profitable calls I ever made! He was impressed by the ability of my office to get his patient in immediately to be seen, and that I took the time to call him directly. We spent a few minutes discussing the other services we provide our patient, and he was unaware that we were able to see patients with diabetes for the annual, retinal exams. He told me that his biggest peeve with referrals for diabetic exams was the lack of communication back from the doctor seeing his patients. I promised him that I would send a report back for each patient of his I saw by the end of the day of their exam, and I have stuck to that since. He thanks me every year for the care and expertise we provide his patients, and for the prompt communication. Spending a few minutes with him on the phone educating him about the care that optometrists can provide his patients has paid dividends over the years.
“I didn’t know you did that!” How many times do we hear that from patients who let us know they saw urgent care or their PCP the week before for an eye infection? Or worse, how many patients call to cancel an exam because they have an eye infection or red eye and are seeing their PCP for it that same day? We know we have the skill set to treat these issues, and assume our patients know, but many do not. I let every patient, new and established, know that while I will plan to see them next year for their comprehensive exam, if they have any issues mid-year, let us be their first call as we provide emergency care as well. It’s always surprising to me how many patients never consider our office for that type of care! We all know we are capable of it but make the assumption that we will be the ones our patients call with emergencies, which isn’t always true.
Expanding practice scope with specialties
Now is such a great time to be an optometrist- the number of new technologies and advances in patient care is exploding. Many of us can begin to follow our passions and develop niches and specialties in our practices to provide them with a different level of care. Again, many patients do not consider us for anything outside of routine care, and education can be so powerful in growing these specialties and our practices, and significantly increasing our revenue. Do you have a passion for dry eye, and provide special diagnostic and treatment for your patients? Are you practicing myopia management in your office? Do you provide your patients with ocular aesthetics, such as Upneeq or Vuity? Are you passionate about sports safety and have a section of your optical dedicated to sports eyewear? While we are busy in the exam room answering patients’ questions, doing our exam and entering data, spending a short period of time letting each patient know the vast ways we can help them can pay off significantly in revenue.
At some point in our careers, we will be looking at ways to gain new patients or increase our per patient revenue. Instead of reinventing the wheel, taking a step back and educating the public and our patients about what we can and are doing can be a huge practice builder and source of revenue.