1. Avoid the commodity trap
As discussed in my optometric dispensary article, a unique private practice experience is key.
Support luxury eyewear lines and independent companies to keep patients from "window shopping." Showcase to patients why their frame is unique. Reiterate the fact that glasses are the first thing noticed about a person and represent who they are. In my office, I rarely re-order the same frames. We create excitement by letting our patients know we are always bringing in exclusive merchandise.
2. Develop a niche private practice
Decide what is unique about your private practice. Is it specialty contact lenses? Is it sports vision?
I wanted to be a high-end luxury niche practice. My target market was young professionals, especially women. The idea developed from my own shopping experiences. I would find myself bored in local stores, because the merchandise always looked the same. I wanted unique and different, which is the goal of 4 Eyes. Tortoise sunglasses are just tortoise sunglasses until they become the sunglasses worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
3. State of the art equipment
Many new practitioners try to save money on their equipment.
I've heard horror stories on used equipment, you just never know what you are receiving. I decided to purchase new electronic phoropters for the "WOW! Factor". They are expensive, but I get comments daily about how high tech everything looks. In today's world, everyone expects the latest technology, including our patients. We all know PD rulers are sufficient, but are they impressive? No.
4. Enthusiastic and friendly staff
If you spend any amount of time around private practice docs, you will know we complain about staff, constantly.
Staff are your biggest advocate or biggest foe. Staff who take pride in your practice and your patients are hard to find. They are your patient's first impression of your practice, starting with the initial phone call. The way they interact with a patient can convert a price-shopper to a purchasing-patient. My front staff has a speech prepared when patients with out-of-network insurances call to convert them to private pay. Friendly and enthusiastic staff is difficult to find.
5. Superb service
Our goal is to roll out the red carpet for our patients.
You want them to know we value their patronage. They could go anywhere, but they chose you. Go above and beyond. For example, we had a managed-care plan patient whose glasses took 6 weeks to arrive due to problems with the lab. Although it wasn't our fault, we offered the patient sunglasses of her choice to make up for the delay. The patient responded with a nice yelp review for us.
All optometrists perform the same eye exam, but it's the patient's perception that matters.
We hear all the time "this was the most thorough eye exam I've ever had." What did we do differently? We took height, weight, and blood pressure. Additionally, whether patients opt for fundus photos or not, I show them a picture of the eye, and explain what they are looking at and why it's important to have an eye exam annually. I stress the link between signs in the eye and systemic conditions, and advise them if they have siblings with the same history to have their eyes checked. I recommend UV protection for themselves and their children, citing studies that conclude much of the damage is done as children or teenagers. None of the above is ground-breaking, but they will set you apart and increase referrals to your private practice.
I highly recommend the book "201 Secrets of a High-Performance Optometric Practice" by Bob Levoy for all new optometry graduates, whether future private practice owners or associate doctors. For future owners, it's full of ideas on growing your practice. For associate doctors, a hiring doctor will LOVE a new associate who brings ideas of growth to their private practice.