Expanding Income Opportunities in Eye Care
By Sara Frye, OD, MPH, FAAO January 14, 2021
Although there finally seems to be an end in sight, the pandemic is still pervading every aspect of our lives. With that, it’s eating into many practices’ bottom line. Patients fear exposure and can be weary to schedule routine care. As cases spike, so do cancelations and no-shows. In these unpredictable times, incomes may be fluctuating and security waning. This is particularly true for those on a production-based compensation model. With all this uncertainty, are there other income streams optometrists can tap into? After all, Doctors of Optometry often have eight years or more of post-secondary education. Over the years, they develop other skills and talents. Outside of the traditional clinical realm, there are avenues to utilize this strength and knowledge. Let’s talk a little bit about some ways to do this.
Do you have a knack for practice management? Do you have an auto-renewing subscription to Forbes? Perhaps you pursued an MBA after optometry school. Business skills are an area that many practicing optometrists seek mentorship in. Optometrists are fantastic clinicians and often really nice people. Managing a practice, however, is something we sometimes need help with. Consider marketing your skills to an existing consulting firm or starting your own. It could be really rewarding to help a colleague remedy issues that are hindering their full potential. With so much opportunity for remote work these days, you can easily work with someone outside your geographical area, so as not to empower your competition.
Are you an expert contact lens fitter? Consider joining a contact lens company as a consultant. They’re often on the lookout for people who can mentor other practitioners. The art of fitting multifocal contact lenses, for example, is a valuable skill that many ODs need help with. Try asking your contact lens rep about these potential opportunities. Traditionally, these positions involve travel, but with COVID-19 surely some of this can be done remotely.
Did you minor in English? Have you always enjoyed writing essays more than taking a standardized multiple-choice test? If so, medical writing may be your calling. Although some large companies do their own medical writing, smaller businesses often outsource this task. Freelance platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal are always on the lookout for talent. There are also websites that focus solely on writing, such as nDash. The volume of medical writing relating to eye care is variable, but it’s a great way to stay academically active and earn some supplemental income. With optometrists’ familiarity with medicine and health care as a whole, there is an opportunity to branch out of eye care, too. This opens up many more options. Conversely, you can choose to limit yourself to your area of expertise, whether it be refractive surgery, glasses, contact lenses, ocular disease or eye care technology. Just create a profile and go. You have the flexibility to set your own fees. Some of these platforms take a commission from your earnings, so you’ll need to take this into account when determining your rates.
Expert Witness Work
Optometrists work hard to do the right thing, by putting patients first and treating them in the best way possible. Sadly, there are times when patients don’t feel they were treated appropriately and litigation ensues. When a case is being investigated, attorneys consult with leading optometrists to verify whether there’s been a breach in the standard of care. As an expert witness, an optometrist is tasked with reviewing records and providing an opinion as to whether there was any violation. Attorneys usually search for people in positions of leadership, so you may have a better chance at landing such a gig if you hold an academic title. Otherwise, market yourself as an expert witness using a personal website or social media such as LinkedIn. That way, when people are looking, they’ll know you offer this service. This type of work can be quite lucrative, so set your rates appropriately.
Insurance Case Review
Similar to expert witness work, sometimes insurance companies need to verify whether standards were followed for billing purposes. Position yourself online so you can be found for these types of opportunities.
Do you love to talk? Have you seen an interesting case in the clinic recently? Perhaps it’s worthwhile presenting it. Although COVID-19 has put a halt on in-person education, there are many online conferences that offer continuing education. With all this virtual learning, the expense of travel is not a concern in order to present at a conference. Without the cost of a flight and hotel, your honoraria are your earnings to take home (after taxes, of course). You could be presenting at Island Eyes from the comfort of your own home! And if you’re invited back to speak next year, perhaps the flight to Hawaii will be worth the cost. After all, it’s a business expense.
Although optometry school primarily taught us to be good clinicians, our skills often reach far beyond this realm. Now, more than ever, we can supplement our income without sacrificing our practice.