Having worked in multiple private practice optometry clinics for over 14 years, I’ve seen quite a variety of ways people operate an optical department. Dispensaries from one office to the next have many common elements, allowing these efficiencies to be turnkey. However, every practice varies, so some of these tips may work better for some more than others.
You may think some of these tips are insignificant, but consider the time that’s wasted when a staff member has to repeat the same task or spends way too much time on another task. That’s why being intentional with how time is spent will improve productivity and profitability. Three minutes, five times per day, multiplied by several days per week can add up to HOURS per month. Multiply these minutes across your whole team and you could end up saving a sizable amount on payroll expenses over a year’s time just by cutting out a couple of minutes on a few tasks!
Know Your Products
- Frames: All dispensaries have many different frame lines to cover the needs of their patient base. Getting familiar with all the lines your office carries, rather than just your personal favorites, can be a huge time-saver. In order to efficiently locate frames on the board, staff need to know which brands offer which styles. It’s also helpful for salespeople to know the story behind the brands you carry, as many customers ask for products based on manufacturing location, social mission, or ethical or eco-conscious factors.
- Lenses: Most offices have preferred “families” of lens products (if not, I would recommend streamlining from “all” options on the market), which covers nearly all the lens options any given office would need for the majority of their customers. Whether you prefer a specific manufacturer’s products or your lab’s house brand, get familiar with the names and utility for all the lenses they offer. Not only will you have a full toolbox of lens options, but the number of staff hours spent researching, looking up details, or calling your lab with lens questions will be greatly reduced. Reach out to the rep for your preferred lens family, and make sure your office’s sales staff is familiar with all their current products. Reps are happy to teach!
- Software: Patient communication software options can be quite robust, and many electronic medical records programs have tools built in that can make your day-to-day operations a little easier. Some examples of these time-savers are: online scheduling, appointment confirmations and reminders, online forms that import into electronic health records, order arrival notifications, texting with patients, online bill pay, and others. You’re likely already using software that includes some of these features, so check with the company and see if you’re abreast of all they currently offer.
Communicate With Staff and Yourself
- Taking Orders: Any staff member who takes an order for a patient should get in the habit of taking good notes while they are working with the patient. Spectacle orders specifically have a lot of details that may not be remembered perfectly if the optician is inputting the order hours later. To prevent missing important details and/or having to call the customer and re-ask a question, the best practice is to write down everything so no detail is missed, and the order can be input efficiently.
- Customer/Chart Notes: It’s highly unlikely that any given patient will work with the same optician every time they visit your practice, or for the entire time they remain under your care. To give all patients a high level of continuity of care, be sure that you note any patient-specific details in their chart or order, where it can easily be seen by a future optician who may help them. Notes such as “patient needs seg height lowered by 5 mm on every PAL,” or “patient wears occupationals for driving,” or “poly sensitive, only use Trivex,” are a few examples of notes I’ve come across that have saved me a lot of time and prevented remakes, both of which improve patient satisfaction and retention.
Use a Digital Measuring Device
Having optical staff use a digital measuring device saves a ton of time by taking (usually) one photo that provides all required position-of-wear measurements for lenses. In addition, digital measuring devices can result in more consistent measurements across varying staff knowledge levels. In my experience, when using these devices, patients better understand their investment since they can see the advanced technology being used to create their lenses. It’s also a fantastic conversation piece.
Efficient Rep Visits
Company representatives are an important part of operating an optical department well. Your office should establish a frequency for when you will visit with each rep. It may be that all reps are seen quarterly, a few are seen twice a year, or some may have inventory emailed followed by a virtual visit. Create a master sheet for each account you have that lists important details you will need to keep referencing: how often the rep should be seen, board space allotment, your discount and if it’s direct or through a buying group, all of the lines they offer (even if you don’t carry all of them), the rep’s contact info, whether or not cases are needed with returns, the address to mail returns, and any other details. Having this written down and in one place will save admin time and can help to prevent any errors with returns or billing, regardless of which staff member sees the rep.
Organization Will Help
This is the last thing anyone wants to take the time to do, but consider the daily frustrations that could be reduced. If something you use frequently is in a poor location, relocate it to a new home. If you’re tired of redundancies on a form, populate all core fields in the master copy. If the same question is repeatedly asked by patients or staff, find out how you can answer it before it’s asked. Big time-saver: bookmark every website you use daily (frame vendors, insurance authorizations, lab/order processing) on ALL workstations.
While these items all take time to complete, it will end up saving much more time in the long run. Start with one efficiency to improve upon, set up the infrastructure for it, then move on to the next improvement. Before you know it, the employees in your office will start noticing how these efficiencies are making their days easier.