‘I went to my PCP for my red eye’

February 19, 2013

By Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcel Business and Career coach

A recent Time magazine article highlighted the phenomenal gross domestic product (GDP) growth occurring in Africa. To experience the birth of technology in a third-world country carries a sense of nostalgia. My recent experience in Ethiopia was like a flashback to the day I thought Zack on “Saved by the Bell” was so cool because he carried around a cell phone. Admit it: you thought he was pretty cool.

There is a great paradigm today in optometry practice where the evolution of practice has not completely occurred across the nation. Our evolution from glasses and contacts to full-scope medical optometry has many parallels to the technology comparisons between Africa and the United States. This model of medical optometry is a staple for the more recently educated optometrist; for others, it is a scary look at significant change in practicing optometry.

The medical model of optometry is more than having the instrumentation that allows for the medical eye care of patients. It starts with the doctor and how the doctor communicates his or her services to staff and ultimately patients. When your staff view you as the primary eye care provider, they begin to communicate to patients in a way that markets your practice as medical.

To shape the perceptions of staff you must be intentional about what you discuss with them. Use staff meetings to discuss medical eye cases you are managing. Take time at the end of the day to tell one or two staff about how Mrs. Smith is going to feel so much better because she came in and received a prescription for her red eye. When staff listen to stories about medical eye care, they will think medical eye care.

Communication with staff is only the beginning to reshape perceptions of your office being more than glasses and contact lenses. To practice the medical model of optometry, begin with the marketing strategy your practice uses. Here are a couple of actions to create a medical model mentality with patients and staff.

1. Handouts/ brochures: A simple addition to your practice is a custom-made brochure highlighting you and your practice as primary eye care providers. Title the brochure “primary eye care providers.” Add pictures of red eyes, floaters, a doctor using slit lamp, and children with pink eye. These are inexpensive to put together and can be delegated to an associate or staff member. Also, look for colleges in your area that have graphic design. Students are always looking for projects, and the cost is minimal. Our office uses Vistaprint for low-cost printing. Be sure to hand out the brochures in the exam room when you finish an exam. Check out what the AOA has to offer at www.aoa.org/onlinestore.

2. Website design: If your website communicates only glasses and contacts, your practice will be perceived as only optical. Make sure your landing page/ home page lists an easy-to-see emergency number. Studies show that pictures with faces draw eye contact and attention faster than any other type of design. Place a picture of a child with red eyes on the first page and list “medical eye care” under the picture.

3. Professional communications: The fastest way to build your medical eye care practice is to receive referrals from other health care professionals in the community. This begins with great communication from you to any referring doctor. If you use EHRs, it is very easy to add a note to the referring doctor. Use this note to communicate your expertise and comfort level with providing medical eye care. And ask for referrals. Don’t get me wrong. It is not easy to write and send letters on referred patients, but the time invested will reap referral rewards in the future.

Transitioning from an “optical” optometry office to a medical eye care practice takes intentional planning and an initial time investment.

The rewards of increased referrals, practice growth, and the fulfillment of practicing full-scope optometry outweigh the initial investment.

The medical model of optometry practice begins with changing the perception of staff, patients, and referring health care professionals. Once this perception has changed, your patients will be telling their friends and family, “I went to my optometrist for my red eye.”

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