By Dave Anderson, OD
Sept. 4, 2019
Optometric professional meetings offer a chance to increase doctor and staff education, while networking with peers and vendors.
In optometry it’s a juggle between learning new clinical skills and about products to help our patients, along with business management acumen. Here are the meetings I attend, what I’ve learned over the years, and how these events help me to better serve patients and become more profitable.
I attend Practice Management Institute (PMI) hosted by the Ohio Optometric Association, which is uniquely focused on current issues, including EHRs, ICD-10 or our new state laws. A big reason PMI makes it into my calendar every year is that it is nearby and allows me to bring my entire staff for a full day of motivation and education. In the past, this meeting has had keynote speakers such as Laurie Guest, Scott Jens and Justin Bazan, all discussing relevant topics in eyecare and helping motivate my staff.
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I also attend either the IDOC national meeting or an IDOC regional forum, along with the PECAA and Vision Source meetings. Finally, I attend the EastWest Destinations (EWD) meeting each year. This meeting allows me to finish up my CE for the year, enjoy sun and downtime and have direct and informal interactions with the event sponsors and vendors. This is a great way to dive into the details of products with my toes in the sand.
Seek Meetings With Education Tailored to Implementation in Your Practice
When I attend meetings like those from IDOC, PECAA or Vision Source, I am able to receive education particular to implementation in my practice.
For instance, the day after attending an IDOC meeting, I began the search to hire and implement scribes in my office after learning about how to do this and how to become more efficient with this systematic change.
The Cost of Attending Meetings
The cost of meetings vary, with vastly different registration fees, hotel and travel costs, as well as in the amount of time away from the office required.
To bring my entire staff of 19, along with all four doctors of my practice, to PMI, the cost is usually around $2,000, not including loss of revenue from time away from the office. However, this loss of revenue is worth it because my staff always returns with great ideas that can be used in our office, as well as confirmation that the changes or new ideas we already have started working on are good ideas.
Last year, I took my entire staff to Cleveland for the East West Eye Conference for two nights. The cost in total was nearly $8,000, but the returns have been far above what I expected. I did this because I was the outgoing president of the Ohio Optometric Association, and I wanted all my staff to be at the meeting with me during the honors program.
I fully expected a very negative ROI given the cost to make this happen, but three staff members attended a course on improving capture rate and how to better understand the buying prices, and along with changes I began implementing, our capture rate climbed immediately. They fully understood the concepts and were excited to take action.
Another area that showed great ROI was for two staff members sitting in a course on frame board management. They both left with a renewed energy and clear focus for how to manage our board and how often it should be reviewed.
The average meeting cost of meetings I attend is around $1,000 for registration, travel, food and hotel. This is reasonable, considering after I return from any meeting, I always have 2-3 ideas to either improve an area, increase revenue or save on expenses.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when attending a conference is that it is best to look at an ROI for each idea, as well as the ease to implement, and prioritize 2-3 to tackle when back home.
Create a Specific Plan for Each Meeting
Some meetings are all about CE, some all about networking and vendor discussions, but regardless of the meeting, it’s best to have a plan mapped out beforehand.
The best way to create a personalized plan is to look at the registration book and at courses that will either improve a clinical skill, add a new skill or a course that is focused on a key business area.
Another pre-meeting activity I always do is reach out to key vendors to set up meetings about my business relationships.
At the same time, it’s important to be flexible while at a meeting. Often, I encounter a new idea or product and I want to learn more. I try to leave extra time for impromptu meetings, and I always carve out several hours for time in the exhibit hall.
I also try to find time to meet with other doctors to discuss matters that we both encounter, and talk about how we each deal with them. For example, a meeting at a conference gave me insight into implementing Optomap. After hearing from my colleague, I was able to avoid a few issues they encountered when they added this technology.
Recently, at Optometry’s Meeting, I spent time with two colleagues as we discussed areas in the eyecare business that seemed to be lacking. This conversation led to the formation of a new business to help doctors implement their plans, called wEYES Guys. We joked for a while, but soon had a plan to focus on an interactive lecture series to help doctors with their HR, business management and improving implementation of great ideas they are exposed to during meetings or when reading articles such as this.
Don’t Just Stick to Areas of Familiarity
The first mistake many doctors make is taking classes only in areas they are already interested in.
If an OD is adept at fitting sclerals, there is value to maintaining and sharpening those skills, but taking only classes on sclerals will minimize the impact of the whole conference. To avoid this, always take 2-3 courses outside your comfort zone and 2-3 courses focused on the business of eyecare. This will ensure a broader base of knowledge, and will keep all the skills fresh.
The second mistake ODs often make is focusing just on the classes, and not the networking and vendor opportunities. Be willing to attend a meeting, dinner or focus group if given the chance. These events often provide an opportunity to dive into a subject in an informal environment.
Take Advantage of Great Vendor Offers
Vendors at meetings often have huge discounts when frames or equipment are purchased at the show. I added Solutionreach while attending East West Eye Conference, and the show discount saved me over $800 to get started and in first-year savings.
Adding Solutionreach was something I had already considered, but being at the meeting allowed me to have a one-on-one demo and saved me nearly the cost of attending the meeting.
Several years ago, at another meeting, I purchased a new scleral lens set for half the cost, and was given credit for three new fits, again saving me nearly the cost of attendance at the meeting. However, the best part was meeting the fitting specialist whom I had already spoken to over a dozen times while troubleshooting other GP lenses. The time he and I spent discussing the scleral lens and how to introduce the lens into my practice was invaluable to both of us, as I now have a great go-to for the lens and he has a very satisfied, loyal customer.