An Optical Can Make or Break Market Share
An Optical Can Make or Break Market Share
By Farrell “Toby” Tyson, MD, FACS
Your opticians are very important profit centers. Next to your optometrists, the optician is the second most important professional you will employ. In many cases, an experienced optician can generate the same amount of revenue as an optometrist — with the same or lower overhead percentages. Any underperforming opticians should be replaced, since they must be not only profit generators but also public relations ambassadors for your practice. Patients bond with opticians more quickly than with other staff and loyally return year after year to a favorite optician.
At Face Value
Your optical division should be viewed as the marketing arm of your practice. Nationwide, around 40% of patients choose the eyecare provider at the location where they purchase their eyewear, and selection is made based on the desirability of the eyewear — not the provider. That leaves the remaining 60% of patients selecting an eyecare provider based on their reputation and skills. To expand market share, we must accept that optical is a key factor in patients' perception of our practice. We have tens of thousands of patients in our communities who are literally walking billboards for our practice, wearing fashion eyewear that brings comments from friends and neighbors. This gives our patients an opportunity to spread good word-of-mouth for our practice and build a strong referral base. It is the least expensive form of advertising.
You cannot take the loyalty of your patients for granted. If they are happy with their new glasses, they are likely to return to that vendor and start to use their eyecare provider. Although it may seem improbable to achieve a 100% capture rate, it is definitely a goal to strive for. Capture rate is the most important metric in your optical division. It is calculated by dividing the number of optical jobs by the number of refractions performed. This gives you the number of patients who are taking their refractive prescriptions elsewhere. This is critical information; whenever a patient takes your prescription to another vendor, they will surely be entered into their recall system. Second pair sales, sun, sport and protective glasses may take an optical over a 100% capture rate.
If your optical is a top performer, you can expect to receive walk-ins with outside scripts from your competition. Patients lost to someone else's optical will usually never return. Given its importance, you simply can't afford to maintain a poorly run optical division in your practice. It is not merely a poor reflection on the rest of your practice: it either brings in new patients or actively loses patients from your practice.
Keep Your Patients In-House
It is the responsibility of every ophthalmologist to ensure the best visual outcomes for each of his patients. But your job is not finished when you complete the refraction. If the patient takes an eyeglass prescription to another vendor, you cannot ensure the best outcome for your patient. When eyeglasses are dispensed within your practice, you can guarantee that they are made correctly and remake any mistakes made by the doctor, the optician or the lab. If any of these mistakes occur outside of your practice, the blame will most likely fall on your practice and you will lose the patient because you can do nothing to rectify the problem.
Managing a practice is challenging enough without adding a fashion retail component that can potentially generate 30% of collected revenues. Yet this amount cannot be ignored — especially in today's economy.
Marketing eyewear is a rather new concept to ophthalmologists; prior to 1980, we didn't dispense eyewear or own optical dispensaries. Some ophthalmologists still lack enthusiasm for this segment of their practice, largely because they do not understand it.
With managed care becoming a force within our field, contracts often require ophthalmology practices to be full service and provide optical benefits to our patients. Once the domain of optometry and independent optical shops, selling eyewear is now very much a part of most ophthalmology practices. The revenues that an optical division can generate is a buffer against cuts in Medicare reimbursements and managed care payments. An optical division must be well managed to maximize its fullest potential. It is no longer a frills benefit for the convenience of patients. OM
||Farrell C. Tyson, MD, FACS, is a refractive cataract/glaucoma eye surgeon at the Cape Coral Eye Center in Florida. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Ophthamology Management, Issue: February 2010