Faced with the sluggish economy, a changing regulatory climate, shifting patient expectations and new forms of competition, today’s optometrists are getting more creative in their approach to both clinical and business matters. Whether it’s improving their diagnostic skills, implementing new technologies in the exam room or office, employing the latest management techniques or raising the level of patient care, forward-thinking ODs are pushing ahead with fresh ideas. They are the focus of our second annual Optometric Business Innovators report, a special collaborative project between Vision Monday and Review of Optometric Business. Each month for the rest of the year, ROB will profile the honorees in various categories–business management, optical dispensing, digital media, marketing, the patient experience, influencers and contact lenses. This month: doctors recognized for innovation in the patient experience.
“Patients are not just a pair of eyes. You need to look at them as whole people.”
After several decades of building up a successful optometric practice, Michael J. Dunn, OD, found that the pathway to personal success lay in a rededication to the “roots of optometry.” In his practice, The Family Vision Center, in Lubbock, Texas, he concentrates on providing primary eyecare to families, as well as low vision therapy, vision training and nutritional counseling—and not selling eyewear.
In order to focus on these fundamentals of the profession, Dunn dramatically downsized a practice that had grown to employ 17 and which maintained files on 30,000 patients. He closed his dispensary, allowing him also to dispense with staff and its management challenges. Now he sees about 2,000 patients a year with a staff of just two: he and his wife, Cindy, an optician by background who also is trained in T’ai Chi Chih, a form of movement and a healing art similar to the martial art, T’ai Chi.
“The key difference is that I now spend at least a half-hour to 45 minutes with each patient,” said Dunn, who entered practice in 1976 after graduating from the University of Houston School of Optometry. He feels his approach, which builds for stronger doctor-patient bonds, suits both new and established practices.
Many of Dunn’s active patients are seniors, and he offers treatment services for macular degeneration and low vision. Dunn is enthusiastic about the success he has had in two other areas: corneal refractive therapy (CRT) and nutritional counseling. Paragon Optical named him CRT Practitioner of the Year in 2008, and he cites many instances of patients eliminating up to 6.0D of myopia with overnight use of reverse geometry rigid contact lenses.
If one thing differentiates Dunn’s practice, in this town of 230,000 with a concentration of medical centers, it is the patient experience which is notably more personal and satisfying with his holistic approach.
“I try to understand my patient’s total health history and recommend lifestyle changes and nutrients to support their needs,” said Dunn.
VINCE GRANIERO, OD
Henrietta, New York
“If you do your best every day and give the patient the best exam they’ve ever had, you’ll never have to worry about patient flow.”
Private practice optometrists and optical retail chains are usually competitors, but not so for Vince Graniero, OD. For more than 20 years, he has operated a successful, high-volume practice within a LensCrafters store in Henrietta, a suburb of Rochester, NY.
“We have a sublease within LensCrafters, so we’re private within a corporate setting,” he explained.
“It is a huge benefit because LensCrafters is a well-known name. Thirty five percent of our patient base on a daily basis is walk-in traffic. When they’re shopping and in need of an eye exam, we can see them the same day. That generates lot of new patients.”
Graniero said that maximizing efficiency has been a key to the success of his practice. His team of three full-time optometrists, including himself, and two part-time ODs, see patients seven days a week. He also employs a full support staff to handle pre-testing and check patients’ insurance.
The practice, which has been computerized since 2008, recently began using My Vision Express practice management software. The software allows patients to make appointments online, and then sends them reminders by e-mail and phone. It even enables Graniero to book appointments during an eye exam.
Advanced technology such as an Optos retinal scanner also plays an important role.
“We capture about 65 percent to 75 percent of our patients with the Optos,” said Graniero. “That’s huge in itself, and it generates a lot of referrals. We were the first practice in Rochester to use it.”
“Recognize what patients and clients need and desire, then establish programs that exceed their expectations and success will follow.”
While much of his experience with patients has resulted from his having founded a five-location primary eyecare group practice in Minnesota and managing it for 20 years, John Lahr, OD, FAAO, now has an impact on far more patients as the medical director for EyeMed Vision Care. With approximately 159 million members, this vision benefits company provides access to thousands of private practice and retail-affiliated network providers.
As medical director of this massive organization, Lahr sees optometry’s role as being instrumental in health care reform and inherently involved with health risk assessment. He cited recent studies indicating increased incidence of diabetes and prevalence of cardiovascular disease risk factors among US adolescents as illustrative of areas in which optometry can participate with other medical professions in determining who is at risk and helping to monitor disease progression.
“Optical is in a unique position to be able to assess diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol,” he said. “Whatever we see in the eye is probably the same level of disease in the kidneys, liver and toes, for example.”
He described some steps that he and EyeMed are taking to participate in health risk assessment. “I sat in on several health coordination conferences where the employer brings all health care vendors to a meeting,” he said. “You have a medical carrier, dental carrier, you might have a psychology group, and you have vision, and we all discuss who is sharing information. Most of the time we’re the provider of unique data sets they haven’t seen before.” He sees this as only the beginning.
“Take the time to listen and respond to your patients and you will be rewarded.”
When trying to create a positive experience for patients, many optometrists redesign their office, purchase new, high tech equipment or employ the latest voice and text messaging services. Brian Spittle, OD, takes a different approach.
“As odd as it may sound, we try to improve the patient experience by improving the employee experience,” said Spittle, who has grown his private practice in Midlothian, Va., more than seven times over since he bought it eight years ago. “Keeping staff morale high has allowed us to greet patients with a smile and resulted in a tremendous volume of referrals because enthusiasm is contagious.”
Focusing on customer service, communicating precisely to patients and providing quality care has been the key to growth of the practice, which Spittle co-owns with his wife, optometrist Norma Spittle, OD. “The easiest way to be successful in business is to find a niche with minimal competition,” he said. “For us, that niche is a business based on honest communication.”
Spittle described his patient base as “young, middle-to-upper class and somewhat trendy.” To appeal to this demographic, he has created an aesthetically designed office environment that features pleasant scents (a lavender-vanilla mix) and soft rock music. The entire facility is “green,” as well, which many patients view as a plus.