Optical to medical: The great evolution of practice

March 19, 2013

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

Breaking up is hard to do. Whether you are ending a relationship or firing an employee, the breakup is always very difficult.

You are faced with having to tell someone they are not a good fit for you. You have postponed the ending as long as you possibly can. Let’s face it—you are avoiding the situation altogether. Unfortunately, you may be causing yourself more pain in the long run by not ending your current situation.

As optometrists we are faced with many endings and new beginnings. We see new patients every week while watching previous patients move away. We watch products in the dispensary be replaced with newer, better performing products. And we watch our way of practice evolve over time. There is a season for all things in optometry and in life. Like the states of the north experiencing winter before the southern states, so are many optometry practices experiencing the necessity to offer patients medical eye care.

Medical eye care does not come at the cost of abandoning optics and dispensing. Medical eye care reinforces the need for all patients to view optometrists as the primary eye care providers. Successful practices are doing exactly this. They incorporate medical eye care without losing the benefits of an optical dispensary.

Here are a couple of steps to help identify you and your practice as primary eye care providers.

  • Prescribe Frames/ Lenses for Medical Reasons: When was the last time you prescribed sunglasses for dry eye? All communities have patients with dry eye; however, Wichita, where I practice, is one of the worst cities to live in for dry eye and allergies. For me, prescribing sunglasses for dry eyes results in referrals from enthusiastic patients who tell their friends all about it. Do you prescribe sunglasses to all your cataract patients? How about prescribing sunglasses to younger individuals to protect their eyes from the long-term effects of ultraviolet (UV) damage? Do you regularly prescribe wrap sunglasses with foam or silicone inserts for your dry eye patients? These are only a couple of examples pertaining to prescribing optical solutions for your medical eye care patients. The AOA offers resources and education through its SUN Initiative. And like all AOA EyeLearn™ courses, is available free of charge to AOA members (www.aoa.org/eyelearn). When patients view you as their primary eye care provider, they will turn to you no matter what type of eye problem they have.
  • Staff Education Focus on Primary Eye Care: The phrase “culture is caught, not taught” is so true with leading your staff. They are replicas of the leader, you, and they will emphasize and deemphasize exactly what you do. When they see you referring dry eye patients or all diabetic patients to another doctor, they will immediately assume optometrists do not treat these patient types. Then when they are conversing with friends and family, they will express the same message. You will find that when you start educating staff about what you do in the exam room, they will begin encouraging patients who have eye problems to schedule an appointment with you. This of course requires you to treat and manage medical eye problems. (More information and ideas can be found at http://bit.ly/UFeSEP.) The AOA’s Paraoptometric Section (www.aoa.org/x4940.xml) and AOAExcel™ (www.excelod.com) are good resources to educate your staff on medical eye care and billing and coding. Sales representatives may also educate them on a particular product or instrument.
  • Hire a New OD: There are many optometrists who want the benefits of a new associate but do not want to pay the price. However, all good things come at a price. Remember how you felt about the purchase price of optical coherence tomography (OCT)? You agonized over the cost of an OCT until you had one in your office and you realized the benefits of such an instrument. An associate, if given a clear job description and fair compensation, may be exactly what you need to bring your practice to the 21st century.

The new associate should add value to the practice in many ways. One of those is the depth of knowledge they have with medical eye care. Students today are being trained medically to work hand in hand with fellow physicians and others in the medical community. If you refer more primary care then you treat, if you are billing 92014 98 percent of the time, or if you are just uncomfortable treating medical eye problems, then it is time for you to hire a new OD.

Our profession has evolved over many years to become the primary eye care provider for our communities. Choosing to embrace the times can be very frightening, but also very rewarding.

If you are planning on selling your practice for the highest dollar amount, you will want to ensure the medical model is the perception your patients have about the practice. This perception will continue to bring growth and prosperity to a profession that continues to face the ever-increasing pressures of lower reimbursements and greater competition.

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