Optometry experiences toll of tough economy

January 1, 2010

Not a day goes by in our practices where we don't lament with a patient about the loss of a job or celebrate with them that they still have a job.

Without a doubt, optometry experienced the toll of the economy firsthand. Not a day goes by in our practices where we don't lament with a patient about the loss of their job or celebrate with them that they still have a job.

These changes have led to adjustments in our patient's habits. Patients are more value conscious. Part of seeking value pertains to the cost of a product or service, but more importantly, patients want to feel like they are getting their money's worth.

During this trying time when the economy is shifting, it is critical for us to look out for our patients and protect their vision and maintain good eye health. We also must add value to the patient experience.

For example, you can easily add value in the exam room. Patient education through effective communications is what may separate a successful practice from an unsuccessful one. Try communicating during your slit lamp exam, noting what you see. Then when you tell a patient that they need UV protection, they will understand because you mentioned the start of cataracts or mild macular changes.

Reinforce a new contact lens and solution because of something that you noted during the anterior segment evaluation. Educate patients to make eye-care decisions based on their functional, visual, and eye health needs.

Consider implementing a specialty in your practice, such as an emphasis on sports vision, low vision, pediatrics, vision therapy, specialty contact lenses, or ocular disease management. After deciding on a specialty, use the resources within our profession to become an expert in that field. Sign up for the journals and specialty associations and attend an optometric meeting that highlights the specialty.

Develop a process that will market your services to patients and other practitioners. These patients have considerable needs that are not being met. You can make a positive impact in their lives and in your practice as well.

Add energy to your practice and improve patient care this year by investing in new technology. Consider a topographer, anterior segment imaging, or retinal imaging. You will be amazed at the excitement this will bring to your practice. All members of your staff will have something new to talk about and learn.

Patients will see that your office is progressive and on the front line of technology. It will add more value to their care and give them a reason to talk about your office in a positive way to potential patients.

Upgrade to Electronic Medical Records (EMR) this year. Optometrists will be making this change in the next several years. Integrating EMR in your practices will streamline processes and the care you deliver. Deciding which system is best for your practice is the most difficult part. There are many systems to choose from, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses.

Once the initial growing pains are over, you will be pleasantly surprised by how efficient this new technology will make your examination, billing, and office flow.

Without being too cliché, 2010 will be a year of change. The economy and our health care system will experience major changes throughout this year. Patients will continue to seek the greatest value for their health care needs. It is our responsibility to educate them on the importance of eye health and the value that our offices will deliver them.

Although we don't know what the coming year holds for our practices, one focus will be certain to keep us competitive in 2010: What is right for our patients will be right for our practices.

David L. Kading OD, FAAO, practices in Seattle, WA. Dr. Kading's practice specializes in anterior segment disease and contact lens fitting. Readers may contact him at doctorkading@gmail.com
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Mile Brujic, OD, is a partner of a four location optometric practice in northwest Ohio. Dr. Brujic may be contacted at brujic@prodigy.net
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