MythBusters: Optometry Edition

Dr. Stewart is challenging independent optometrists to rethink many of the common misconceptions about the industry.

What I love most about optometry is the opportunity each of us have to create an authentic practice — including incorporating things we enjoy, referring out those which we don’t, and continuing to learn and evolve as we go. As we create these practices, often there are “optometry myths” that throw up roadblocks and challenge our way of thinking. I often read or hear “it can’t be done that way,” “that won’t work,” or “it’s always been done this way.” This makes me love to ask — can things be done successfully other ways?

Here are some my favorite myths to challenge.

Longer is better.
The longer someone stays in our exam room, the more they value the experience, right? I wholeheartedly disagree with this — to a point. I always say, read the room and mirror the patient. Is it an older patient who looks forward to this visit, loves to hear about your family, and show you pictures of their grandkids? They likely value a longer visit with more face-to-face time. The new patient who keeps checking their watch, answering emails, and seems to hover without actually sitting down? They likely value efficiency, being on time, and a streamlined process from start to finish.  

I think of myself as the patient in this case. I love a doctor who is thorough, answers questions, makes eye contact, is personable, but doesn’t keep me waiting or draw out the visit. Someone that values my time but doesn’t hold me hostage makes me want to return again.

I encourage you to think through your patient visits. Do patients need to fill out forms each time they have an exam? Can you have a scribe do preliminary testing and document in the exam room, so your time with the patient is more valuable?

Hire for skill. 
In today’s market, hiring a skilled optician or technician can be next to impossible. I have heard horror stories from colleagues who are paying way more than they can afford to find someone experienced, only to have that person be a nightmare employee. I have the opposite view and ideally hire on personality. With good training, resources, and support, most skills in an optometry practice can be learned. What can’t be taught is being pleasant, friendly, personable, and reliable. If you find someone with these skills, but they are lacking in experience, scoop them up and start training them right away!

You have to do _____ to be successful. 
What is one of my favorite parts of optometry? The fact that we can pick and choose what types of services and care we want to provide. This can include adding in a specialty you love, or finding a rockstar colleague to refer to. We often get caught up with the “next big thing” in optometry and feel pressured to spend money, time, equipment, and care that we, frankly, may not be passionate about. 

As optometrists, do we (and should we?) be everything to everyone? My answer is no. I love primary care optometry and contact lenses, but treating glaucoma is just not my favorite. While I am absolutely able to provide care and management to these patients, I found I was better served hiring an associate who loved glaucoma, letting her treat these patients, and freeing up my time to spend doing things I truly enjoyed. It was a win-win for everyone — me, my associate, and my patients.

Take a hard look in the mirror — are there parts of optometry you don’t enjoy or feel passionate about? Can you find a trusted colleague who can take care of these patients? I urge you not to feel pressured to add in any niche or specialty that you don’t 100% feel driven to do, no matter how popular it is currently. We don’t have to be everything to everyone to be successful.

I have to be open evenings and weekends or patients will leave.
During COVID, a lot of people took a look in the mirror and thought about their lives. Was the work/family/life balance what they wanted, or did things need to change? And boy did they! People looked at what they valued most, and tried to adapt their work life to fit that, versus the other way around.  

Optometrists are also looking at what they want from their practices, and whether their current setups are supporting the lives they want. This includes a lot of ODs dropping Saturday or evening hours, condensing into four-day work weeks, and even changing the practice schedule and hours to better suit their personal schedules. I have a friend who is a night owl, and she decided that seeing patients at 10am instead of 8am made all the difference in feeling rested and ready to take on the day. Other friends have increased their patient care hours Mondays through Thursdays, but enjoy three-day weekends every weekend!

What impact has this had on their revenue? Most report that they haven’t noticed a significant change — some even notice their gross declined, but their net has increased when they dropped Saturday hours.

What changes have you longed to make in your practice schedule but have held back out of fear? As one trusted colleague remarked, “If a patient really wants to come to us, they will find the time in their schedule!”

I need to take XYZ plan. 
This is one of my favorite myths to bust! In our practices, we are often frustrated by stagnant or decreasing reimbursement from vision plans that have not come close to meeting our rising costs. We feel trapped in accepting these plans, and have to hire more staff to manage them, see more patients to break even, and get creative in our materials to be profitable. We feel overwhelmed, burned out, and hopeless. Is there any other way to practice?

The resounding answer is YES! In 2024, we will introduce you to many colleagues who have felt the same pressures and decided enough is enough. They have dropped plans, cold started without any, or set a plan in motion to be independent and free. Of all the myths, I hope to bust this one to show independent, private practices there are ways to practice without feeling pressured to accept plans that don’t support your business.

What is an optometry myth that you are looking to bust in 2024? This is a great way to set goals for ourselves and our practices with a twist!

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