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Do We Need a New Approach to OD Business Education?

By Peter G. Shaw-McMinn, OD

July 27, 2016

I recently cleared out some files, and it occurred to me that many in our profession do not realize how much the business side of optometry has evolved in the last 30+ years.

To address the increasing need of ODs to fully understand the business side of their practices, I’d like to see a comprehensive practice management program launched that consists of 48 office meetings with materials that an OD can use in their practice–a program that is repeated and improved on year after year by the practice. I can envision lesson plans developed from the excellent Review of Optometric Business articles, making optometry a fun business to be in.

The key to the success of new business programs will be their ability to allow ODs to easily implement the lessons learned after they get back to the office.

When I graduated from optometry school in 1978, business was a dirty word. Optometry schools had one practice management class, and it was often named something else. Profit and marketing were considered beneath the practice of being a doctor. Sometimes I think many of our colleagues still believe that.

The AOA Practice Enhancement Program (AOA PEP), championed by Richard L. Hopping, OD, changed the attitudes of many of us. Rolled out in 1986, it made optometrists feel that it was OK to look at practice from a business standpoint. Business was not, in fact, a dirty word. Business practices could actually improve patient care. The program encouraged the formation of study groups, some of which continue to exist today. The program consisted of monographs on every aspect of running a practice; videos and audio tapes that guided the practitioner through pre-course workbooks to complete before the group met, and course workbooks that the group worked through together.

The PEP was supported by strategy newsletters distributed monthly. I can say that the AOA PEP program improved my practice and my life immensely. And for that I will always be grateful to the AOA and Dr. Hopping.

After the PEP program was launched, the optical industry got involved in trying to improve practices with one- or two-day programs. Allergan Pathways in Optometry was given at every optometry school and introduced new graduates to practice management for five years. It later became re-branded as the AOA Career Advocate program, and served to alter the attitudes of doctors coming into our profession.

For practicing ODs, there was Pathways in Practice. CIBA Vision produced the A.R.T. of Eyecare and the Business of Eyecare, which was a computer simulation ahead of its time.More recently, Alcon contributed the Management & Business Academy (MBA) Program, co-sponsored by Essilor. Vistakonlaunched the Total Team Concept and a Checklist for Change. Bausch +Lomb provided their Practice Development Team. The AOA created one-day seminars called Practice Management University for two years.

These meetings generated a lot of excitement and motivation, but learnings from them were difficult to implement in the practice. Much of the blame resides in our inability to lead the practice to change. As doctors we believe our responsibilities lie in areas other than running a practice. To those who believe that, I say improved practice management skills will improve your patient care. Staff will be better trained, and patients will heed your prescribed therapies.

Until then, ask yourself, what are you doing to improve your practice?

How do you educate yourself about the business side of your practice? What are the most helpful courses, or other resources, that have taught you how to better manage your practice?

Peter G. Shaw-McMinn, OD, is an assistant professor of Clinical Studies at the Southern California College of Optometry. He is the senior partner of Sun City Vision Center, a group practice including five optometrists. Dr. Shaw-McMinn has served as chairman of the AOA Practice Management Committee and the Association of Practice Management Educators. He was the appointed Benedict Professor in Practice Management & Administrationfor the University of Houston College of Optometry for 2001-2002. To contact: shawmc1@me.com.

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