Practice Management

Building a human centric business driven by smart tech

Running a business may be more difficult than ever before, especially if you don't set yourself up for success by empowering your business with the kind of technology and service that your customers expect.
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Published 11.3.2022

Introduction

Too many eye care offices today operate at more than 100% capacity with around 70% of their normal human resources. That fact alone spikes my frustration and exhaustion. As a profession, we must recognize this as an opportunity that needs to be addressed. Add to that the difficulties around hiring, retention, training and continuing education and you might start to feel the same pangs of indigestion that I feel. Today, we have to see more patients than ever before in the hopes that we can make the same amount of money.

None of that seems fun, or fair, or sustainable. Especially when you consider that the same amount of money is worth considerably less this year than it was just three years ago. This is where I want to challenge you. I want you to think outside of your comfort zone and hone in on those processes that you can improve upon for your staff and in turn for your patients and your business.

I’ve spoken with many owners and have visited enough offices to know that practice processes are often created out of deadlines and necessity which can lead to a convoluted system of bandaids stacked on top of eachother that sort of resemble a process if you squint. What if we took a different approach? Start with patient outcomes in mind with everything you do and everything becomes clearer. Make no mistake, it takes more than a little work to get there but a well oiled machine doesn’t happen by accident.

Recently, I’ve seen my own staff treat patients as though we are doing them a favor by being there. Most of my colleagues and I went to school to serve patients and when we remember that they in turn serve us all of a sudden, our worlds open up. We’re not doing them a favor any more than they’re doing a favor for us. My practice (and hopefully yours) provides valuable services, products, and expertise.

Why are we in business if not to serve our customers to the best of our ability?

Classic Business Lifecycle

The classic lifecycle of business begins with the owner who takes care of the staff who in turn takes care of the customer who in turn takes care of the business owner and allows the cycle to continue. When we forget how this lifecycle is supposed to work, things get even harder and people end up feeling taken advantage of instead of feeling like someone has their interests in mind. If the cycle breaks down anywhere, the business cannot improve or progress or even continue to exist in some cases.

Classic Business Lifecycle
Classic Business Lifecycle

At the end of the day, we need to remember this central thought: health care is human. As more and more of our patients are enticed by online vendors, some of which can put our patient’s eye health at risk, it is more important than ever for us to remember the human aspect of healthcare.

Our patients want convenience and control and if we don’t meet them where they are, they’ll find someone who will. Think about how easy or difficult it is for patients to make appointments with your practice. Do you offer online scheduling? Live chat? A digital form to complete? Is your website mobile friendly? Have you updated your website this year? Take this simple quiz by Dr. Contact Lens to see how your contact lens sales process stacks up!

Zenni optical alone has sold over 50 million frames online. If you think this is a fad, like we thought facebook was at one point, think again. Despite knowing that we’re in a different world today, many of us continue operating our practices like they were operated 30-100 years ago and if we don’t change what we’re doing, change will find us.

Private equity groups continue to play further into the equation, they see the little gold mines that you and I have built; they’re able to capitalize on them by making small but impactful improvements on the processes you have in place. You may get a big check today, but you lose your autonomy and your patients may end up getting worse care as a result. That business lifecycle we talked about earlier gets shattered and nobody really takes care of anyone.

We’ve been living in the information age for years now and one truth seems to stand out above the others: data is EVERYTHING. We have access to invaluable patient data yet most of us don’t understand what we are sitting on or what to do with it. We have the world at our fingertips; we just have to enable processes and go after it.

Tech-Infused Business Lifecycle

By adding the right technology partners, your new business lifecycle could look like this: the business owner invests in staff and technology, which makes staff day to day requirements easier and more effective so they can in turn take better care of the customer by being present. Successfully adding technology to this cycle necessitates that we have our processes in place which rewards the business owner so they can invest in future upgrades for their businesses and in turn their customers. This reintroduces sustainability to the lifecycle that we’ve somehow lost sight of in recent years.

Tech-Infused Business Lifecycle
Tech-Infused Business Lifecycle

When I say that you are going to build your practice through clicks that is truly where you are going to find millions of dollars that you didn’t know you had let along go after. For instance most offices that onboard with my little tech company Dr. Contact Lens will see where over 1 million dollars is hiding and actually be able to capitalize on that information with one click.

This is where the data revolution has to take place. There is no way I could pay enough humans enough money to call every patient that’s due to order contacts or schedule appointments to come in and make it time and cost effective. This is where the concept of clicks not people comes into focus.

The time it takes to simply make, change, or reschedule an appointment when someone calls your office directly is absurd. As a busy professional I share the desire to go online and have the agency to fit appointments into my schedule, as opposed to letting someone else’s schedule interfere with mine. When you are building a process or breaking current processes in the beginning it is going to be hard.

Put your consumer hat on for a second and think about how easily almost anything can be delivered to your home after a few clicks and a couple days. Just like many of us thought Facebook was a fad… it was only the beginning of this digital revolution so it is long past time to get optometry and our offices out of the AOL dial up days and into the SpaceX revolution.

Renewable Resources vs. Finite Resources

Human resources are finite and humans can only do so much in a day when they’re firing on all cylinders. People are also inconsistent and despite their best efforts will have more and less productive days on their own unique spectrum. Recognize that good tech is reliable and consistent, and that at least some automation is necessary in order for us to compete.

Pick one thing you can automate and have your staff be involved in the process. For example, your front desk has so much to do on a daily basis between phone calls, making appointments, checking insurance, checking on order statuses, placing orders, other follow-up work or literally dozens of other things we don’t have the space to list here. If you have not answered the phone lately in your practice or observed the check-in process, you are doing your patients, your staff, your office, and yourself a disservice.

If you have not visited a physician lately, I highly recommend that you do and look outside your profession for inspiration. In 2009, I was introduced to a company called Demandforce after visiting my dentist; within one week we had it up and running in our office. We suddenly had automated appointment confirmations which someone in our office had been doing for 25 years!

Ask yourself, was she relieved or upset when we automated that task? She was not only relieved to have that time consuming and thankless task taken off her plate, she had more time to properly greet and take care of people as they enter. She didn’t have to waste her time leaving a voicemail that no one listened to anyway. Talk about appreciation! It does not mean her job went away, it means her job became more about doing something she loved in fitting patients with their glasses.

Nurturing Your Vision

There are plenty of tech companies that exist to make that intake experience better for all parties involved. Of course, doing this effectively involves investing time, resources, effort, and money into getting it right. Not doing so will cost you much more than that.

Remember, you are running a business, which does often call for human behavior change. Your business relies heavily on people, and people can be resistant to change such that staff might revolt when you propose changes. Your patient outcomes and your own livelihood depend on YOU being able to change personally and engender change among your team.

When you employ technology the opportunities are limitless, when you employ people there are cost, space, and efficacy limits with which to contend. It is up to us to merge the two so we can get the best of both worlds for the sake of our patients and by extension our businesses. We have worked so hard for the privilege of taking care of someone’s vision, we should not lose sight of nurturing our own vision.

Author
Brianna Rhue, Optometrist / Practice Owner
Brianna Rhue earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona before earning her Doctorate of Optometry at Nova Southeastern University. She completed her residency at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami and is a partner at West Broward Eyecare in South Florida. Dr. Rhue is passionate about health care technology, myopia management, specialty contact lens fits and practice management. She enjoys sharing her love for technology and myopia management through speaking engagements to help optometrists understand business, technology and new areas of care to help all parties involved. Dr. Rhue is the co-founder of Dr. Contact Lens, TechifEYE and Myopia Patrol. Outside the office, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, playing tennis, standing on her head in yoga and traveling.