Taking a chance on doing things differently in your practice.
By Laurie Sorrenson, OD, FAAO
Oct. 25, 2023
In our practice, we have done a few things that initially appeared questionable. All of the things I will mention have worked out well for us. Of course, I won’t mention the ones that didn’t…maybe that will be a future column! 🙂 In this column, I’ll share some of the initially suspect choices we made in our office that turned out to be positive changes.
Over-Hiring Associate Doctors
In fewer than six months, we took the bold step of hiring not one, but three, new doctors. I didn’t plan to do this, but I had one doctor leave to work for the University of Houston College of Optometry, so his good friend filled in for six months until my son graduated. I planned to hire one more doctor, which ended up happening virtually the same time my son graduated. Then, the original doctor wanted to stay “for a little bit longer.” Over four years later, she is still with us!! It took a while to get their schedules filled, but it made me more innovative in creating opportunities for the doctors. This turned out fantastically!
The Silverstone Acquisition
Adding a $200,000 Silverstone OCT to our equipment lineup, despite already owning a Monaco and a Daytona, seemed like a poor financial decision. To justify this expense (I really just thought this technology was so wicked cool, I had to have it), I reevaluated fees, worked on our capture rate, and we ended up becoming significantly more profitable, even taking into account the new monthly payment.
Our tendency to consistently hire inexperienced staff might seem counterintuitive. However, it allowed us to cultivate a team with a blank slate, eager to learn and adapt to our office culture. We created an outstanding on-boarding program with a calendar and a checklist that enables us to train and onboard almost every position, including optician.
The Paperless Pursuit
We went to what was then called “paperless records” over 25 years ago. We work hard to streamline our process for record-keeping, and never have patients fill out information on paper.
Direct Shipping from Lab to Patient
Over the last year we experimented with shipping eyewear directly from the lab to the patient, eliminating the need for in-office handling. I realize this is a controversial approach, but it sure does save a LOT of time for our lab opticians! And patients get their glasses 1-2 days faster this way!
TreeHouse Eyes Investment
Despite already having a myopia management program in place, we invested in Treehouse Eyes. This seemingly redundant move strengthened our commitment to myopia control, ultimately benefiting our young patients. We struggled to get our myopia management program off the ground and consistent. Treehouse Eyes enabled us to do that, resulting in profitability and better care for our kiddos!
Saturday Staff Incentive
Offering an extra $50 to staff working on Saturdays may have seemed extravagant. For years, I gave staff a bonus for coming to work on a Saturday, but about two years ago, we upped the amount to $50. Now we have no problem getting staff to work Saturdays! This still maintains profitability, and it really feels like the right thing to do!
We focus on competitive salaries and benefits, and work hard at creating a fun, safe environment. Read the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink to see what truly motivates employees.
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Staff Health Insurance
Many optometric offices don’t provide health insurance for staff. I have always believed that as an employer, it is my responsibility to make sure our staff have their healthcare needs taken care of as much as possible. It is getting really expensive, which motivates me to find ways to become more efficient and more profitable so that I can afford their health insurance. We do not cover 100 percent of the cost, but cover over 80 percent of the cost.
Dual/Multiple Candidate Hiring
My son and practice partner, Eric Hammond, OD, does all the hiring now (See his article in ROB on hiring).
I can’t say that letting my son take over 100 percent of the hiring was one of my best decisions. Why? Because I didn’t make that decision, he just started doing it!!! He is so skilled at hiring, and he enjoys it (What? Who likes hiring?). It was one of the best moves we ever made.
He came to me about six months ago, struggling to decide which candidate to hire. They both had great attributes that were very different from each other. I said, “hire both!” We did, and it turned out to be such a great idea. We trained them both for two different positions. They each ended up liking one of the positions better than the other, but they know how to do both. Just a couple weeks ago, Dr. Hammond was deciding between three candidates…he hired all three! I am sure that will work out too!
Classes for Staff
We pay for staff to take American Sign Language classes, Spanish classes and CPR classes. These things can help with patient care, but also show our staff that we care about their growth and education.
Midday Breaks and Learning
We close every week for an office meeting in the middle of the day. We provide lunch, education and usually do some type of fun team-building exercise. This boosts team morale, promotes learning and helps us create the culture we want and reinforces our core values.
Thirsty Thursday Happy Hours
Hosting quarterly Thirsty Thursday Happy Hours at the office was an unorthodox move. We provide food, drinks, sometimes Karaoke, cornhole games, Giant Jenga, etc.
Many offices feel you should refrain from hiring family members or friends of current employees. It is hard for me to stick with that plan since both my husband and my son work at our office, and we hired two of my son’s best friends! We currently have three husband/wife teams, one mother/daughter, one mother/daughter-in-law, one aunt/niece and several best friend teams!
In summary, our journey is punctuated with decisions that might not initially seem like the best moves. But trying new things makes running a business fun, and sometimes these ideas actually work!