Co-Management

Build Business Opportunities with Networking

By Maria Sampalis, OD

Nov. 23, 2016

My practice, an independently owned office located inside a Sears in Warwick, R.I., doesn’t have an optical. Accordingly, I knew from the start that I would need good relationships with other eyecare practitioners nearby where I could send patients to get their eyewear. More than the need for the provider of an optical, though, building reciprocal relationships with other optometrists and MDs in my community has enabled me to grow my patient base and provide the best care for my patients.

Watch Dr. Sampalis discuss how she reaches out to other doctors to serve patients best and build her practice.

Build Reciprocal Relationships

I have three local eyecare providers where I regularly send patients. The first is an optician’s office that doesn’t have an OD or ophthalmologist on staff, so I send patients there to get glasses, and they regularly send patients to me in need of an eyewear prescription, or eye health-related care.

The second office to which I send patients is a LensCrafters that has instrumentation, such as an OCT, that my practice lacks. When I believe a patient should be screened with an OCT, I send them there. LensCrafters bills the patient’s insurance $10-$15 for the technical component of the patient’s care–strictly the use of the instrument–and we bill about $30 for the evaluation component.

This relationships serves both this LensCrafters and my practice well. I have an easily accessible ECP in the community to send patients to for high-level imaging, and the optician at LensCrafters has a nearby OD to send me patients to when their office is booked and a patient needs an exam or medical eyecare evaluation right away.

The third ECP we have a relationship with is a local ophthalmologist to whom we send patients with advanced diabetic retinopathy, or other conditions beyond my scope of care.

Find ECPs to Work With

It isn’t hard to find other ECPs, whether ODs or MDs, to send and receive patients from.

The first step to take is going to your local American Optometric Association meetings. You also should attend contact lens manufacturer-sponsored dinners, and dinners sponsored by eyecare drug companies.

I have found these event good place to meet doctors that I can send patients to for consults. Also, I often meet older doctors nearing retirement. Those doctors frequently can offer a wealth of knowledge about how to build an eyecare practice in your community. For example, they can tell you about products or services they tried offering that didn’t work, or experiments they tried with hours and days open, and what seemed to work best with the community’s demographics.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time at events like vendor-sponsored dinners to make connections. As the mother of two young children, my free time is limited, so I usually tell the sponsor of the dinner at the beginning that I won’t be able to stay too long, but that it was important for me to attend. I usually leave shortly after dinner and the vendor’s presentation. I’m careful to speak with both the other doctors attending, as well as the dinner’s sponsors.

Don’t Be Afraid to Introduce Yourself & Ask for Advice

Whether you are a current practice owner, or a new graduate thinking of opening a practice, it isn’t hard to connect to a more experienced optometrist. When I’m at a professional meeting or vendor-sponsored dinner, I go up to them and introduce myself, telling them my practice situation and my background. Importantly, I inquire about their practice. Often, more experienced practice owners have tips to offer, and have no worry about me competing with them because they are close to retirement, and many don’t practice the same level of medical eyecare that ODs who graduated more recently from optometry school practice.

In addition to gaining the expertise of more experienced ODs, reaching out to these doctors provides yet another opportunity to build your patient base. Since many of these optometrists, who may be in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties, graduated from optometry school when the optometric scope of care was much narrower, they often need more medically oriented ODs to send patients to for care.

Make Time to Network & Connect Via Social Media

I try to set a broad agenda when I attend an optometric conference like Vision Expo East or West or the AOA’s Optometry’s Meeting. I feel it is important to set aside time for networking, in addition to attending CE purses. These encounters can be as simple as meeting a doctor as you roam the convention hall, or in a CE class, and then suggesting an impromptu coffee or lunch while at the conference.

Be sure to follow-up these off-line meetings online or on the phone, and with connections on Facebook and LinkedIn made. You can find groups of ODs in a similar situation to your own to connect with, such as a group I started myself this year for ODs practicing in corporate retail locations, Corporate Optometry on Facebook.

Maria Sampalis OD, practices at Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick RI. She is also the founder of Corporate Optometry on Facebook. Dr. Sampalis is also founder of the new job site corporateoptometrycareers.com, and is available for practice management  consulting. To contact: msampalis@hotmail.com

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