Independent Eyecare Practices Can Thrive: Top 5 Strategies to Excel in Today’s Competitive Market
By Courtney Dryer, O.D. July 26, 2021
The independent eye care practice has faced increased competition in the last decade. Online retailers, private equity, and vision insurance plans have affected profits. Profitability has become increasingly difficult due to rises in the costs of both labor and goods, and flat insurance reimbursement rates. Despite the obstacles, it is possible for an independent eyecare practice to excel with the right strategy. Patient education, independent products, niche services, positive online reviews, and excellent customer service are five strategic areas necessary to thrive in today’s aggressive eyecare market.
1. Patient Education
Patient education is key to an independent practice’s success. It may be the most important strategy. Patient education begins before the patient enters your practice. In an internet-driven research society, your patients have an idea regarding a purchase prior to arrival. An online interview or questionnaire can be utilized to determine possible interests and may help you address patient needs. Today’s patients are informed on contact lens pricing, the $99 Warby special, and app-based eye exams. We as a profession have failed in patient education. The job of you and your staff is to educate patients on the importance of an annual exam, disease detection, and the science behind your service and eyewear recommendations. It’s not enough to pre-appoint them; use their screening photos to educate them on the link between the eye and systemic disease. When recommending a new brand of contact lenses, educate on the materials, oxygen permeability, and ocular health. When they ask about blue light, cite the latest studies. Education on dry eye is more than over-the-counter artificial tears. By utilizing contact lens rebates and their insurance, an entire year of contacts is available to them. Most importantly, the education given in your office distinguishes a comprehensive exam from an online autorefraction or busy, mismanaged practices that are like refraction mills. Education is vital to establishing our profession’s value with our patients, ensuring they return each year, and for purchasing the best products from us.
2. Independent Products
The products you offer in-office should be chosen carefully. Eyeglasses have been commoditized and most patients are unaware of the difference in lens and frame products. Independent products are produced from superior quality materials and can be distinguished from mass-produced products by certain manufacturers and resellers. Patients should be educated on the manufacturing process and brand’s story. Working with independent eyewear companies is beneficial for your bottom line. They seek to grow your business because it grows their business. They often have a commitment to not sell their eyewear online which reduces “show-rooming” or patients who come to try on your eyewear but shop online. Additionally, independent eyewear companies innovate, reinvent, and deliver unique eyewear designs. Patients who are happy with their purchase build brand loyalty to your products and your practice.
3. Niche Services
There are many optometric service niches to offer your patients. Most of these services are offered only in independent practices as they require more time and commitment to patient care. Dry eye clinic, Myopia management, vision therapy, scleral lenses, and sports vision are examples of possible specialty services. As a doc or a manager, it can be tempting to want to add each service, but by selecting one, you and your staff will be more successful. Analyze your practice demographics and your strengths to determine your niche. Invest your resources in marketing your niche and in new technology.
4. Positive Online Reviews
Your online social presence is the single most important referral source for new patients. Claim your business Yelp and Google pages, and direct patient reviews to those specific sites. Most experts agree reviews on Google are best for SEO purposes, but millennials use Yelp. Patient communications systems can be integrated to send out automated texts for reviews but active promotion for reviews must be done by staff members. Common optometric communication systems include Weave, Prime Nexus, Solution Reach and Demand Force, amongst others. When researching systems, it’s necessary to look at where the system places your reviews. Some sites will list your reviews on their own pages versus posting directly to social media sites. This will not benefit your practice for SEO. The system you select should allow you to set custom filters on who you would like to ask for a review. This weeds out practice detractors. Additionally, compare the number of steps it takes your patient’s review to hit a social media site. If they are having to click through too many steps, you will lose them. Your positive reviews should be actively promoted on your practice website and social media accounts.
5. Customer Service
Thriving independent eyecare practices emphasize to staff the value of exceptional customer service as it drives referrals. An independent doctor’s ability to select and train their own staff will always be an advantage over commercial entities. We say at our practice, “roll out the red carpet!” Reduced wait times, kindness, calling to check up on a medical patient, and providing a lens cloth/cleaner with purchase sets an independent OD apart.
Though the eyecare industry has been disrupted by many outside forces, it is still possible to own and grow a thriving eyecare practice using the best strategies and practice management resources.