American Optometric Association issued a report on the state of optometry in 2013 and they reported that there are over 22,000 optometrists who are owner/operators of an independent practice. Despite the current trends in retail, optometry seems to be the last bastion of the independent ownership. Of course, there is competition from chains, mass retailers and the Internet. However, despite this competition, there are pluses to owning an independent practice which are:
A Committee of One
The biggest positive associated with being the owner of an independent optometric practice is that the owner calls the shots. Since the owner is the one who makes the decisions, the owner can do what he or she thinks is best for the business. An interesting result of this is that independent ODs actually adopt technology sooner than their corporate counterparts, since the only person the owner has to get approval from is him or herself.
Patient & Staff Loyalty
While changes in insurance can lead to patients going elsewhere; when patients have a choice, many will stick with the eye doctor that they know. So, not only will patients return to a familiar eye doctor, they will recommend that same familiar doctor to friends and family. This leads to more patients for the practice. Another good thing about an independent practice is that staff turnover is lower than corporate practices. Since there are not too many management layers, staff members can present their ideas straight to the boss and the boss can decide right away what to do with them. Staff members can also work with the owner when it comes to workflow, procedures and scheduling since actions can be done without having to fill out a lot of forms.
Of course, nothing goes perfectly and an independent optometric practice is no exception. Some challenges facing independent optometrists include the following:
Upgrading & Expanding
Aren’t upgrading and expanding good things? They are—if they are done right. Running and maintaining a successful practice means upgrading equipment or acquiring a new or bigger space. With upgrades and expansion, comes the need to finance them. Since there isn’t a corporate office who pays for these things, it’s the owner who has to figure out a way to pay for it all. That’s where exploring options before signing contracts or checks comes into play. Is it possible to lease equipment instead of buying? Do you really need to move to a bigger space? Can you make do in your old space and tweak staffing levels or hours of operation? While there are times when moving into a bigger space or buying new equipment is necessary, the money is coming out of the owner’s pocket, not from some big corporation, and new equipment and property are not cheap.
Hiring a Doctor vs Hiring or Delegating to a Staff Member
Speaking of things that are not cheap, doctors of optometry are on the list. So, as your practice grows, it may not be necessary to hire another doctor. Is it possible to delegate more administrative tasks to a staff member, so that you can see more patients? Is it possible to hire another staff member, so that there is someone to share the nonmedical work load? Hiring another OD should be done after you have utilized other means to distribute the work load. Even when you hire another OD, start him or her on part-time basis and only if there is a patient population to support it would you increase the number of hours the OD works.
Yes, owning an independent optometric practice has its challenges. It also has its rewards, which is why 22,000 optometrists own a practice.