Practice Management

The 2 Keys to Creating a Strong Shutdown Recovery

By Clint Taylor, OD

June 24, 2020

Before COVID-19, succeeding in eyecare wasn’t exactly easy. Vision plans had eroded profits. Online glasses and contact lens sellers were competing for patients. Some ODs felt forced to partner with vendors and others that were our direct competitors. Many patients didn’t understand the difference between high-quality optical products and those of lower quality. And many patients complained that glasses took too long to receive after they had been ordered, and were too expensive.

COVID-19 has only made our environment more challenging. The pandemic has been a boon to some of our online competitors, whose sales have skyrocketed over the last couple of months. The pandemic has also forced optometry offices to spend funds on cleaning supplies and equipment. And the cleaning and disinfection process decreases efficiency and impedes patient flow.

Faced with the above challenges, what are we supposed to do? There are two factors I believe are the keys to a strong practice recovery: efficiency and opportunity.

An efficient office completes tasks and processes with as little wasted effort, time and resources as possible. Operating efficiently is key to keeping a low overhead and to creating a positive patient experience.

Fine-Tune Process
Examine every process at your office – what can be made more efficient? Can your office have patients fill out intake forms prior to their visit? Can you streamline your pretesting routine? What about your new cleaning and disinfecting protocol? What about tasks that don’t involve direct patient care (ordering frames, re-submitting rejected claims, etc.) – can they be performed more efficiently? If your processes are already as efficient as they can be, is there software or other technology that would help improve efficiency?

Educate Your Team
Once your processes are fine-tuned to be as efficient as possible, the next step is to increase your team’s knowledge. Knowledge is a key to efficiency. Opticians should know their products forward and backward. Insurance personnel should know the ins and outs of each plan.

Technicians should not only know how to perform testing on patients – they should also know why those tests are performed. An office with experts at each position is an efficient one. Send staff to national and regional meetings. Encourage self-learning. Provide in-house training sessions. These investments in your staff will pay dividends in increased efficiency.

Minimize Mistakes
To be efficient, we also must minimize our mistakes. Each time the wrong insurance is entered into our EHR, each time an unnecessary pretest is performed, and each time there is an error in an optical order, it creates confusion and delay. Mistakes can be limited by addressing them when they occur and by implementing a system of checks and balances that enable the mistake to be found before any harm is done.

By fine-tuning systems, increasing team knowledge and minimizing mistakes, we can ensure that our offices are running efficiently and are positioned for success.

The second key to our post-pandemic success is maximizing our opportunities. This is going to be important because we may have fewer patients coming in the door, and those patients may have less money to spend.

Patient Education
“Maximizing opportunities” does not mean taking advantage of our patients. We do not up-sell in our office. In fact, we don’t sell, period. We listen to patient complaints, and then we use our expertise and knowledge to make recommendations to solve patient problems. When patients follow our recommendations, it’s a win-win for patients and for us. Their quality of life is improved, and our revenues go up, which allows us to provide better care for more patients.

Increase Capture Rate
We need to provide as much care as possible to each patient that we see. One way to do this is to increase our eyeglass capture rate (defined as the percentage of patients who come in for a full exam and purchase eyewear). As stated above, we don’t sell at my office. Instead, we listen to patient complaints and then make recommendations to solve those complaints.

If our capture rate is low, the argument could be made that it’s not because we’re not selling – it’s because we’re not listening. If we were listening, we would hear patients complain of struggling to use their lined bifocal on the computer. And we would pick up on patient complaints related to not having prescription sunwear or non-glare products on their current glasses. When we truly listen to our patients about their visual problems, it becomes much easier for us to make recommendations to fix those problems.

Increase Sales of Annual CL Supplies
Another way to provide more care to each patient is to improve our contact lens yearly supplies. Yearly supplies are a classic example of a win-win. When patients buy a yearly supply, they are saving money (due to rebates) and saving time (by not having to re-order later in the year). They are also more likely to discard their contacts as directed, which helps to prevent contact lens related eye health problems and discomfort.

Our office benefits when patients buy a yearly supply, as well. First, it saves us time. Each time a patient calls to order contacts, we have to answer the call, place the order, unpack the order, call the patient and tell them their contacts are in, and then dispense the order. Obviously, it’s easier for us to do this once per year instead of multiple times. Also, there is little profit margin in contacts, but there is some, so our revenue increases when patients buy a yearly supply.

The best way to maximize the opportunity in contact lens yearly supplies is to assume everyone wants a yearly supply. We should know how much each of our most popular contact lens yearly supplies is and we should know what rebates are available. At check-out, this should be the price quoted to patients. Then have the yearly supply direct-shipped to the patient, and that opportunity has been maximized.

Help Patients Maximize Insurance Benefits
Another way to help patients while helping ourselves is to maximize their vision benefits. If patients are eligible for lenses or a frame through their vision plan, we should encourage them to use that benefit. After all, they’re paying for that coverage. If they don’t use it, they’re paying for the coverage for nothing. Again, we’re not selling the patient anything.

We’re informing them of their vision plan benefits, listening to their complaints and helping them solve their problems. Like contacts, there is little profit in covered vision plan products, but there is some – and this is an opportunity that should be maximized.

Tap Opportunities Created by the Pandemic
We may pick up new patients from offices that were completely shuttered, not even providing emergency eyecare. We may have an increase in contact lens patients because masks cause glasses to fog up. We may see an uptick in computer vision syndrome patients because of the increase in screen-time usage.

Also, in the short term, remember that many of our patients have recently received stimulus checks. And the typical places they may spend that money (restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters and travel) may be closed or limited.

COVID-19 has presented challenges to many industries, ours included. By confronting our challenges head-on, and forming a plan to overcome those challenges, we can not only survive – we can thrive.

Clint Taylor, OD, is the owner of Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, Ill., a one-OD, one-location practice with eight support-staff members that delivered about 3,000 comprehensive eye exams in 2019. To contact him:

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