Patient Experience

What Yearly Road Trips to Visit Other Practices Have Taught Me

Torrey Carlson, OD

June 12, 2019

I have long believed that peer-to-peer is the most effective way to learn. I have always enjoyed stopping by offices to observe how others in our profession are serving patients and growing profitability. I like to see other offices from an outside point of view.

Here’s what a yearly road trip to visit other practices, most LensCrafters independent subleases like my own five-location practice, teaches me about providing a topnotch patient experience.

Key Questions & Points for Improvement
Seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling what another office is like gives you a unique prospective. We use patient reviews to see what our office strengths and weaknesses are, but what do other optometrists do that could improve my offices?

Dr. Carlson (far left) and his colleagues during his recent road trip to visit other practices. He says he always comes away from these trips with valuable ideas for the improvement of his own practice.

What makes these sublease locations so successful? What do they do differently from my own practice that I could bring to my offices? What do these offices look like? What is patient flow like? What processes are in place to maximize efficiencies? What marketing is most effective in their area? How do they recruit and hire? What is their relationship with the optical in the LensCrafters like? What is the mood around the practice? What advice can they lend me? There is no better way to answer these questions than visiting other offices and seeing for yourself.

When a good friend, Paul Vaccerrella, OD, suggested we visit other practices in person, I said I am in.

Dr. Vaccarella and I are LensCrafters sublease holders in New Jersey and Tennessee respectively. After convincing our wives, we decided to take the time and travel to other practices. We started out the first year we did this with a marketing friend in an RV. Our itinerary was packed with many offices on our route. We visited seven offices in a few short days, and along the way, we shared what we were learning with social media groups of optometrists.

We then went home to take it all in and implement what we learned. When we finished, we were shocked at how many doctors asked us to stop by their office, and how many wanted to travel with us. We did a short presentation at the ALLDOC’s annual meeting, and got even more support and interest.

Year two of our visits to other practices, which we had started calling “Eyes on the Road,” was a Florida-East Coast trip. We added a few more doctors on our road trip. We thought it would be great to add a few successful doctors for the visits and the business conversations along the way. We started in Jacksonville and stopped at a few practices and visited ABB Optical Group’s home office. We then drove to Key West and ended with a five-hour business meeting and some fun.

We just completed a Texas tour and visited four fabulous offices next to LensCrafters. We found a main sponsor in Bausch + Lomb. They have a like-minded approach to ours, with a belief in peer-to-peer learning. They are currently doing peer-to-peer training in multifocal contact fittings for the highly anticipated release of their Ultra Multifocal for Astigmatism.

Local Touches, Advanced Medical Eyecare
We first visited Barton Creek Eyecare in Austin, Texas. Robert Soltys, OD, has an impressive office. It is well established and branded professionally with local touches. He has done a great job of hiring great doctors. They have the technology to treat and manage his patients’ eyecare needs, so that patients know his practice is the place to go for advanced medical eyecare.

Remove Pain Points to Patient Experience
One of Dr. Soltys’ focuses is removing the pain points patients experience when having an eye exam. For example, patients appreciate the help the practice provides in figuring out insurances, being open seven days a week, and having many options in their care, thanks to the practice’s cutting-edge technology to treat and manage disease. They make sure all the patient’s questions and concerns are addressed and they sincerely thank each patient for choosing them.

We then traveled to see Emil Fadel’s, OD, busiest San Antonio office-at La Cantera. This office has become the highest-grossing LensCrafters in the city. I had previously visited this practice when he had just started it. Aesthetically, the office looked incredible. It looked fresh, and was full of nice storage cabinetry and art work, imparting a sense of comfort and well-being while there.

Like the other practices I visited, Dr. Fadel had obvious expertise in creating a patient experience that was worth returning to and referring many others to experience.

Market Your Practice, Both Externally & Internally
Dr. Fadel spares no expense in advertising and marketing. He has blanketed the local areas to let everyone know they are there for their patients’ needs. His web site, social media, grass roots marketing and SEO combine to make a comprehensive marketing platform.

Internally, he markets his office with a friendly, knowledgeable staff and doctors to provide thorough medical eyecare. They have all the technology needed for comprehensive care. They ask their patients to return annually and give them a compelling reason to do so. They don’t passively wait for patients to decide to come back; the staff makes daily calls inviting patients back for their annual exams, and then schedules them.

His staff are well trained in contact-lens sales and all believe daily disposable lenses are best for their patients and the practice’s retention. Dr. Fadel leads his team with his internal fire and passion. When you walk in, you can feel that his offices share his good energy. Every one of his 11 offices provide the same standards, processes and experience for their patients. These characteristics combined make a great blueprint for success.

The Three A’s of a Successful Practice: Availability, Affability & Ability
We then drove to Corpus Christi to visit one of the largest-volume sublease offices in the country, Drs. McIntyre, Garza, Avila and Jurica. These doctors have a unique vision for their practice. They follow the three A’s of a successful practice to perfection: Availability, Affability and Ability. The practice sees patients at their convenience, not the practice’s. They take all walk-ins! They have around an 80 percent same-day, or walk-in, percentage.

To encourage affability, Dr McIntyre believes in hiring the right people and putting them in the right spot in his practice. We couldn’t believe the incredible friendliness and teamwork we witnessed. The doctors know how to connect with their patients and develop a professional rapport that keeps their retention percentage sky high.

Finding the best doctors is key, but they also have all the necessary technology for comprehensive patient care. They fully take care of their patients’ visual needs. They believe in prescribing for their patients’ needs, and therefore, do a high volume of daily disposable contact lenses to ensure their patients have the healthiest wearing options.

Be Proactive for Growth
The office had a large area for check in and six check-out desks operating at once. Dr McIntyre once told me that they didn’t want people to wait in line to pay for their services. Over the years, the practice has grown tremendously, in both patient load and size. They have paid for some of their multiple expansions and remodels on their own to enable growth. They are as proactive about growth as you will see.

Effective marketing, word-of-mouth referrals, patient satisfaction and longevity in the community have been key to the practice’s success. They also have developed a marketing television platform that reaches the community. They even have a “jingle” that is well known in the community.

Implement Your Version of These Best Practices
Dr Vaccarella  and I have been so impressed with the level of professionalism, sharing and friendship that we have encountered on these trips. We tweak and implement many of these concepts for our own practices, and have had great success. We both have customer service, patient-centric, convenience, technology and affability-driven practices that have grown beyond the norm, thanks to these peer-to-peer experiences. So, when building your practice, and traveling, keep your “Eyes on the Road.”

What have you learned from other practices that have helped you improve your own?


Torrey Carlson, OD, is the owner of Dr. Carlson & Associates, a five-location practice in the Knoxville, Tenn., area. To contact him:

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