5 tips on going solo in an optometry practice
Dennis H. Lyons, O.D., has excelled at the art of going solo for more than 40 years.
"The secret is very simple: You keep the expenses down, keep everything to a minimum."
His modus operandi for running a solo practice: Be flexible and keep your costs down. But he concedes that managing a solo practice these days isn't easy. Several factors are causing solo practitioners "to become dinosaurs and be the antiquated mode of practice," he says.
Dr. Lyons, who practices in New Jersey, feels fortunate that he had no educational debt from college and optometry school in his early career. That isn't the case for many students today, who face tremendous debt upon graduating. "It's a different financial environment," he says. "These students need to have income right away. They've got debt, mortgages and families, and they can't afford to suffer for the lean years." Some can't afford to buy established practices, he adds.
Optometry practice is becoming more and more difficult to do on your own, says Chad Fleming, O.D., who practices in Wichita, Kansas, and is the business and career coach for AOAExcelTM, a wholly owned subsidiary of the AOA.
"We are seeing small, one-doctor practices joining other practices to manage the exorbitant amount of change" required for meaningful use and electronic health records, Dr. Fleming observes. "I watch our team of four doctors work together to stay on top of all the demands, and I can't imagine being a solo practitioner in today's optometry practice."
In Dr. Lyons' view, solo practitioners have more of a direct interest in the success of their staff, given that they're fully responsible for the finances of the practice.
But establishing a solo practice can be done with a little self-discipline and good leadership skills. Dr. Lyons offers a few tips:
- Be a minimalist. "The secret is very simple: You keep the expenses down, keep everything to a minimum. This means 500 square feet—you don't need 2,000," Dr. Lyons advises.
- Hire the right staff. Growing a staff has become a necessity over the years, he says. Currently, he has three full-time and two part-time staffers who do tasks such as pretesting, typing and insurance work.
- Learn to delegate. Give your staff responsibility "and let them actually be part of the practice. Let them make decisions," Dr. Lyons says. Give them every opportunity and provide financial support for continuing paraoptometric education and certification.
- Search for bargains. For example, buy used equipment. And when considering expensive imaging technology such as Optical Coherence Tomography, ask whether your patient base would benefit.
- Stay busy. Keep your practice schedule full several days a week, and if needed, work for other professionals such as fellow ODs or ophthalmologists on other days to supplement your solo practice.