(As printed in Eyecare Business, November 2016)

I call it The Tale of Two Practices. One practice is experiencing a decline in patients, while another a few blocks away doesn’t have an empty slot for months. One practice is turning one third of its staff over every year, while another keeps its staff for decades. One practice has a toxic work culture, and another has a staff on fire.

Another example is two doctors in the same practice (as in, inside exactly the same walls, same staff, same products, same managed care plans) have a revenue-per-patient that’s $200 different (I see this one a lot). One $2 million practice is netting 36%, and one’s netting 10%. One practice for sale sits on the market for years and settles for selling the records, while another is sold in a month and brings a premium. So what’s the point? Simple. You control all of these outcomes.

Not Obamacare. Not third parties. Not the economy. Not the competition or the Internet. It is YOU that controls these outcomes. Here’s how.


As we work with practices day in and day out, it’s plain enough to see the vast differences in outcomes from one practice to another. More so today, I think, than ever in my nearly 30 years working with practice owners.

As we kick off this new column about Surviving in a Managed Care World, it is of the utmost importance that we keep this in mind. Having lectured coast-to-coast these past few months, I conclude that many colleagues have been duped.
They are convinced in earnest that they’ve lost control of these and related practice outcomes. This trickery, I’m certain, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy for many colleagues, and this, in itself, is the greatest contributor to some private practices making the endangered species list.

That’s not to say our managed care world doesn’t pose challenges. Dwindling revenue-per-patient, increased regulation, compliance concerns, Meaningful use fears (and fear mongering), the see-saw regarding government health programs (are they here to stay, will they be repealed?), etc., etc., etc. Every practice owner is experiencing these challenges; but there are amazing differences in how they are being met, and in the results practices are experiencing.

Controlling Your Own Outcome

Again, the simple fact is we DO control our outcomes. We always have, and we still do (provided we choose to). Here are a few evidences of that from conversations of late:

  • A New Mexico practice is celebrating 25 years, and seeing 20% growth (that’s better growth than many practices only open five years!)
  • A Wisconsin practice did over $2 million again last year and still takes no vision plans (in the heart of managed care country). It’s true.
  • A Montana practice is breaking ground on its third addition of thousands of square feet, after 25 straight record years, despite Costco’s best efforts down the street.
  • A practice in Missouri is seeing its staff ON FIRE after implementing a new profit-sharing plan, experiencing its best doctor day production in a decades-long history.
  • A practice in New York will be selling for a premium shortly, after putting together a string of its best three years of profit in a row.
  • A practice in California had gross billings of nearly $3 million on one doctor before adding its first associate.
  • A practice in Indiana signed up enough companies on its own vision benefits plan that it dumped all of its least-liked third party plans.
  • A practice in Florida has returned to record production after several consecutive years of practice recession.
  • A practice in Oregon has tripled its medical optometry revenues in the last few years.
  • A practice owner in Colorado recently proclaimed, “Owning my practice is fun again,” after tackling a number of employee issues and reducing her work week.

There is, of course, the doom-and-gloom crowd that believes private practice is on borrowed time. But this is not my experience at all—I’m talking to our colleagues, every day, and yes, there are plenty of challenges. But we can choose to control the outcomes.

And, as far as third-party plans, the more things look the same (managed care), the greater the opportunities for the creative to be different. Even in this managed care world, we can and will implement initiatives to control growth, revenue-per-patient, patient retention, new patients, staff productivity, inventory turnover, no shows, profitability and yes, life balance in practice ownership.

Tom Bowen

Executive Vice President
Williams Group
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It happens to everyone—you work hard running your practice, seeing patients, delegating to staff, and managing the additional responsibilities that come with being a business owner. Inevitably, at some point you will begin to feel burnt out from the day-to-day chaos.

Independent optometric practice can be an extremely rewarding profession, but as a health care practitioner, the additional pressures of small business ownership may feel like more than you signed on for. When you’re dealing with insurance companies and no-shows and continuing education, remembering what drew you to the field of optometry in the first place can get lost in the daily grind.

That’s why taking a vacation or time off is essential to your personal and professional health. It’s natural to be concerned about how your business will run when you’re MIA. If you’re a partner or part of a larger practice, things will probably continue, business as usual. But even if you’re operating on your own, time off could end up being very fruitful for your business.

Why? Because everyone needs a break. People need time to press pause and decompress. Being a business owner and health care provider doesn’t allow for a lot of downtime—you’re basically working two full-time jobs. Stress and exhaustion can affect your interactions with your patients, your employees, and your family. That affects your practice’s bottom line negatively. A frustrated employee may not be as motivated to work hard for you. A patient who feels like you were impatient with them may move on to a different practice. The list goes on.

Give yourself permission to take time off from work. The world will continue turning whether you’re in the office one week or not. Or give yourself a day off occasionally. If you’re working with Williams Group, we’re providing you with the processes and procedures to allow you to enjoy a little more time off.  Spend time doing other hobbies, enjoy moments with your family, and experience life in general. Your work is only part of what makes you a great optometrist—your life experiences will add vibrancy and color to your personality and the way you practice. That’s what will continue to bring patients in the door.

How many hours a week do you work? When was the last time you took a vacation?

Tom Bowen

Executive Vice President
Williams Group
Email Tom Bowen

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Many ODs are starting to recognize the value in having a social media presence. The question is no longer whether you should use social media for practice, but how should you use social media for your practice. There are a vast amount of social media channels available and various ways to use them. You may not have the resources of Zappos.com or Pepsi, but you can still find ways to leverage social media to benefit your practice. So without further ado, here is the first thing you can do to enhance your practice’s social media presence.

Get started. 
At the risk of being obvious, you can’t leverage your social media presence if you’re not even in the game. It can be overwhelming when you’re not sure where to begin, but something is better than nothing 100% of the time.

  • Get on Facebook. With 67% of internet users active on Facebook, having a presence on this social network is essential for your practice. Odds are, the majority of your patients have Facebook accounts (not to mention your competitors). 

Facebook also offers a significant opportunity to provide a higher level of customer service to your patients. So if you don’t know where to start, start by creating a Facebook account for your practice and commit to updating it regularly (whether that’s once a day or once a week). Again, anything is better than nothing.
  • Start a Twitter feed. Like Facebook, Twitter is a great place to service your clients. With the #hashtag search function and the short and sweet 140-character limit, this micro-blogging network is appealing and user-friendly. It’s also easily linked to your Facebook account, so you don’t necessarily need to spend extra time posting to two separate social media channels.
  • Try LinkedIn. While LinkedIn isn’t primarily designed for business-to-consumer relationships, it’s a great place for you to network with other professionals and stay on top of current news and trends in the optometry industry. Join discussion groups focused on optometry and keep an eye out for potential rock star hires in your area.

Tom Bowen

Executive Vice President
Williams Group
Email Tom Bowen

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