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Best Practices: An Interview

Most optometry schools focus on developing competent clinicians—not savvy business owners. Many eye care professionals who make the leap into running their own practices must learn as they go.

Even after years in practice, eye care professionals must navigate advances in technology and shifts in consumer behavior to maintain success and continued growth. CooperVision’s Best Practices initiative recognizes eye care practices who have managed to do just that.

Three 2019 Best Practices honorees who are being recognized as prosperous business owners agreed to share their secrets to effective practice management.

What mindset makes a practitioner a successful practice owner?

Sorrenson:        It’s the ability to look in the mirror when things go wrong, and out the window when things go right. The mirror enables you to recognize the errors of your own ways and fix them. It’s easy to blame everybody else for our challenges, but it’s what we can control that counts. Looking out the window means giving credit to your staff and others who helped create that success.

Patel:                Knowing that the only constant is change. Listening to staff members, particularly those who have been in eye care for a while. And remembering that what is best for the patient is best for your practice.

What is the single greatest decision you ever made for your practice?

Briggs:              Taking on a partner. Partnerships can be challenging because if they go wrong, they’re hard to undo. But I brought on a younger practitioner to give him the opportunity and we have grown together.

Patel:                The investment in two-hour weekly staff meetings. We dedicate that two hours to checking the temperature of our practice—updates, training, process improvement, leadership, and more. It’s expensive to close production for two hours every week, but we’ve been doing it for 15 years now and it’s invaluable.

What do you know now about practice management that you wish you had known when you started?

Sorrenson:        Everyone always says to put patients first, but I believe staff comes first. Systems are second. Then you can focus on patients. You can’t provide the best care to your patients if you don’t have effective staff and systems in place.

What is the key to staying competitive in today’s marketplace?

Sorrenson:        Service. We can’t compete on price, but we can shine in service. You have to show patients why your practice is better than anywhere else, from the moment they walk in to the moment they walk out. Reinforce this with your staff over and over, because they are critical to service.

Briggs:              In contact lenses, annual supply sales are key to our profitability. We keep a large inventory and have found that added level of convenience—enabling patients to walk out the door with their lenses same day—makes us exceptionally competitive. Rebates are also important to keep costs very attractive to our patients.

How do you handle challenges with staff?

Patel:                We’re fortunate to have an office manager who will bring attention to the issue one-on-one with the employee. She’ll explain how the challenge is impacting the practice and our mission, then take the time to understand the root cause of the issue and work together to figure out how to fix it.

Sorrenson:        We use a What / Why / Forward-Focused method. Identify the problem (e.g. you’ve been late five times over the last two weeks); explain why it’s a problem (e.g. we really need you, your teammates are losing respect); and look forward (e.g. what can we do to make sure you aren’t late anymore). This approach has really helped us, as it helps work through the process together and shows our hearts are in the right place. We want this to work, and we care.

What practice management advice would you give to a peer who strives to open his/her own practice?

Briggs:              It’s critical to pick a great location. Back in my day, I plotted where all of the current optometry practices were located, and I identified a gap that was not being served.

Sorrenson:        Perfection is the enemy of success. If you wait until things are perfect to open your doors, or to add an associate, or anything else—you’re hurting your growth. You don’t have to be perfect; you only have to be great.

4 Keys to Better Practice Management

Invest in staff meetings. All three doctors leverage regular, thorough staff meetings to discuss process improvements, reinforce the practice’s vision and mission. They believe this time with their staff is invaluable to the success of their practices.

Manage revenue streams. Regularly review and manage the cost of goods versus practice revenue and make necessary adjustments.

Schedule time for administrative tasks. Find a weekly block of time to focus on your practice management to-do list. “The night before, make sure to pre-program how you’re going to use the time so you’re more efficient,” says Dr. Patel.

Establish system for tracking practice metrics. The only way to evaluate changes you make to your practice is to track metrics. “How do you know if you’re doing better if you don’t know where you started?” asks Dr. Sorrenson.

For ongoing updates about Best Practices, visit ECP Viewpoints℠.

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