By Dave Anderson, OD
Oct. 17, 2018
Vision therapy (VT) benefits patients, and can build a practice, by serving existing patients and by pulling in new ones. Many of those new patients will come to you through referrals from other health-care practitioners.
My practice began offering VT over the last two years with the addition of a new associate who is focused on VT. Before then we were referring patients out of our practice to one of two vision therapists. Both doctors were within 10 miles of our practice, but only 50 percent of those we referred would follow through with their appointments.
Once our new associate joined the practice, we began seeing a large increase in referrals both from within our practice, but also from nearby offices. One of the two VT doctors moved out of town at the same time that our new associate joined our office, so this not only filled a need in our office, but within the community.
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After two years of practice, our associate has worked with nearly 15 patients, who all completed their program successfully. Our associate is the only doctor in our practice who is currently working with VT patients, and at any given time, she has an average of 2-3 VT patients who are enrolled in long-term programs. Annual revenues generated from our VT services are over $15,000.
Our practice goal is to always have at least five patients in vision therapy programs at any given time, and to generate at least $50,000 annually from this segment of our practice. We’re making good progress toward our goal. Over the last month, she has added four new patients, and is currently working with seven patients at various stages of their therapy.
When we hired our associate, we invested in nearly $2,500 in equipment and tools meant both for diagnosing the need for VT and for doing the therapy itself. We have a room dedicated to VT and consultations, and feel this is the best way to truly devote the energy and attention to the patients who have this need.
Introduce Yourself & VT Services to Other Doctors
Long before our new doctor began to work with us, we spent time and energy preparing for her to join us, and working on generating referrals. We did this in four steps:
PROMOTE SERVICES: We spoke to all the pediatricians in the area asking them to send their patients to her for exams. We have great relationships with pediatricians, and we consistently visit in person to ensure they are aware of our services, including eye health problems, routine exams and VT. We typically call ahead and visit in person, bringing snacks for the office staff during the visit.
We have business cards and educational brochures that we leave with pediatricians, as well as a referral pad that indicates the reason the patient needs to be seen in our office, along with directions and a map to the office. This also includes our contact information, and directs the patients to our web site to learn more and to complete forms prior to their visit.
WORK WITH SCHOOLS. We worked closely with the school systems letting them know our new associate would be providing eye exams to many of the school children, and worked to develop a good system for communication within the schools.
CONTACT OTHER ODs. We went to each of the optometrists within a 10-mile area, passing out business cards, as well as our fee structure for a consult visit and a range of tests done, and the eye and vision conditions which our new associate could address.
VISIT OTHER THERAPY OFFICES. We visited with other therapy offices that are working with patients in physical therapy, occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy, and educated them on our new VT services, and developed a strategy for working together to serve patients who have multiple needs.
Our associate doctor has been working with stroke, concussion and other traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients to help with their needs. We already had a relationship with the local hospital network, which works with our low-vision doctor, who developed a relationship long ago with the OT department to provide in-home visits to those with severe vision impairments to make the home environment safer. She has seen many referrals from that department for TBI patients who need prism glasses and other patients with severe loss that require low-vision services.
Now, with the addition of our VT doctor, we are able to offer all the care that is needed; the medical services for these patients, the glasses or other optical devices to improve their visual quality, and now also VT to improve their day-to-day functioning.
Reassure Other Doctors That You Will Return Their Patients
It’s important to have frank and clear discussions with other ODs when developing referral relationships. The fear of a doctor stealing a patient is real, and has much to do with the lack of intra-professional referrals. The beginning of such relationships should start with the expectations of each party, understanding that communication is expected on both ends, but truly defining what each party is interested in. At this point, we only have a handful of ODs who consistently refer to our office, but of the six, each has referred multiple patients to us.
We tell the patient that, much like seeing a cardiologist, we are here to take care of their specific VT needs only, and that their primary doctor is who they need to see for other concerns like annual exams and other eye problems. In fact, this is established at the very first visit, so the patient understands fully the role VT has in their eyecare, but also so the patient understands what they should do for other future eyecare needs.