Set your practice up for success
No one knows what the future holds—but that won’t stop the foreboding headlines.
A global economic downturn?
Continued supply chain and staffing challenges?
The disruption of artificial intelligence (AI)?
Predictions for rosier prospects are few and far between. So, what’s a practice to do in planning for the year ahead?
AOA Focus caught up with doctors of optometry from across the nation to ask how they've approached some of these persistent and emerging practice management challenges and oriented their practices toward success in 2024.
Considerations for staff retention
Rebecca Garcés, O.D.
In the realm of practice management, managing the staff is a major element. As an optometrist employed by MyEyeDr., I do feel that I have an interesting take on this topic. As I’ve been at my current office for going on eight years now, I feel like my involvement in the “practice management” side of things has grown with each passing year. I am thankful to work alongside great district managers, regional managers and office managers who involve me in the hiring and planning for our staff. What I’ve found to be most successful in our staff retention efforts is simply letting people know how important their roles are. This starts in the interview, being upfront about job descriptions, but it also continues for as long as that team member is within our office.
As an example of this, we encourage the involvement of our staff in the development of office processes. Being the sole doctor at my location, things can ultimately run how I choose so long as I communicate my needs effectively. Recently, we noticed we were behind on ordering contact lens trials; it doesn’t matter to me how the trials are ordered so long as they are available when I need them. So, my technician, general manager and I brainstormed how to make sure that happened. My technician was ultimately the one to institute our current ordering system. Not only did she feel proud of it being her idea—and in her “area” of the office—but also the process works for all of us because the lenses are ordered in a timely manner and available when needed.
But that’s not the only consideration we make toward retaining staff; we also strive to ensure we’re being as supportive of our team members as possible. While this can mean showing some grace for someone under the weather or going through something difficult, it also means celebrating personal and professional wins. Ultimately, it’s our goal as a practice to take care of our patients in the best way possible—and it’s my belief that a happy, supported team is most likely to take the best care of our patients.
Tackling obstacles on the horizon
Maria Sampalis, O.D.
There are numerous challenges facing optometry practices, from significant financial pressures due to increased inflation, decreased reimbursement rates and fierce competition, to those obstacles that lurk seemingly just over the horizon. Toward that end, it’s necessary to have a strategic plan in place and stay up to date with innovative approaches and technology in eye health and vision care. An ounce of prevention in this way can help result in increasing net revenue, optimizing efficiency and seeking new revenue streams. So here are three ways that optometry practices can tackle those obstacles, both now and in the future.
- Professional training and education. Given the challenges in retaining staff, consider investing in training or professional development that can help persuade staff to stay. Utilize resources from sales reps to keep your office updated with the latest industry practices and technologies. Also, doctors of optometry should be attending educational conferences to bolster their own learning opportunities—consider the many online platforms that we have now as free options or those included with your AOA member benefits.
- Telehealth and AI. Time will tell whether the adoption and implementation of tele-optometry services will help with staffing shortages or make it convenient for patients with problem-specific visits, like dry eye follow-ups and other consultations. In the same way, might virtual scribes help doctors of optometry in the exam room? Already, AI is becoming a dominant force in many facets of our lives; think about how AI is being used to monitor minor changes with patient disease states or even help sell products such as contact lenses through virtual assistants.
- Billing, coding and credentialing. Grappling with stagnant or decreasing reimbursement for years, it’s clear that practicing to the fullest scope of care is the future of optometry. Doctors of optometry must embrace a medical model and invest in new technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of patients. The medical model provides a patient-centric approach that builds relationships and retains patients. Although this mode of practice does come with its challenges, be it complex reimbursement policies to regulatory changes, with time these obstacles can be addressed with coding and billing education, software that helps reduce errors and even outsourcing billing if understaffed.
Navigating insurance, billing conundrums
Brittney McWilliams, O.D.
Getting paid for the work we do in our offices is hard even when everything goes perfectly. Try as we might, we can’t control the insurance companies or their claims processing. One thing we can control, though, is how we handle insurance and billing in our offices. In my office, we collect medical and vision plan coverage before making any appointment, then verify that coverage prior to the appointment. We also prepare estimated quotes before the exam, get verbal agreement to that price before the patient sees the doctor, and collect any copays, coinsurances or deductibles that day. It lessens our accounts receivables, prevents the need to send out monthly statements, and gives patients the ability to consent to the amount they will be charged.
Are you or your practice encountering challenges with a health or vision plan? Contact the AOA’s Third Party Center.
A staff investment for optometric surgeons
Rich Castillo, O.D., D.O.
Altogether, some 10 states and counting authorize doctors of optometry to provide in-office laser procedures, such as YAG laser capsulotomy, selective laser trabeculoplasty or intense pulsed light therapy, as well as minor surgical procedures for lesions around the ocular adnexa. While doctors’ education and training prepare them to provide these optometric surgical procedures safely and effectively, it’s crucially important that their paraoptometric technicians are ready to perform their support role in an efficient, professional way to meet the demands of the patient encounter.
Launched in September, the AOA Paraoptometric Micro-Credential: Optometric Surgical Assisting program is an accelerated, competency-based educational qualification that delivers to clinical staff a foundational understanding of surgical assisting techniques, patient care and surgical office management. Taught by experienced professionals and experts in the field, including Dr. Castillo, the surgical assisting micro-credential includes both a 6.5-hour lecture and theory course, available on-demand within the AOA EyeLearn Professional Development Hub, as well as a 4-hour, hands-on workshop offered at in-person events, such as Optometry’s Meeting®.
Dr. Castillo says the comprehensive education and training are essential learning for paraoptometrics assisting in optometric surgical procedures for a variety of reasons, including:
1) Patient safety. The primary concern in any procedure is the well-being of the patient. Trained paraoptometrics help ensure procedures are conducted with the highest level of precision and care. Proper training ensures they can assist the optometric surgeon effectively, reducing the risk of errors and complications during office surgery.
2) Efficiency. Trained paraoptometrics perform duties efficiently, streamlining the procedure and thereby reducing costs and maximizing positive outcomes.
3) Infection control. Paraoptometrics are responsible for maintaining a sterile field during surgery. Proper training includes infection control protocols, crucial for preventing surgical site infections.
4) Communication. Paraoptometrics need to be able to communicate clearly with the optometric surgeon. Training helps develop the necessary communication skills to relay critical information accurately and in a timely manner.
5) Instrument handling and knowledge. Paraoptometrics must be proficient in identifying and handling surgical instruments and equipment. Training ensures they can anticipate, then select and pass instruments to the optometric surgeon appropriately and understand the instruments’ functions and uses.
6) Adaptability. Optometric surgical procedures vary widely in complexity and type, so training equips paraoptometrics with the ability to adapt to these procedures and techniques.
7) Legal and ethical considerations. Paraoptometrics need to be aware of legal and ethical standards in health care, such as patient confidentiality, informed consent and professional conduct.
8) Teamwork. Optometric surgery is a team effort, and paraoptometrics need to work cohesively with the optometric surgeon—something that necessitates training and practice.
9) Continuous learning. Optometric surgical procedures and techniques evolve over time, so ongoing training is necessary for paraoptometrics to develop their skills and stay up on the latest advancements.
10) Certification and credentialing. Without proper training, paraoptometric surgical assistants may not meet the necessary qualifications for employment or credentialing in the optometric surgical practice.
Looking for the best practice management tip of all?
AOA members can leverage the business services and partnerships available through AOAExcel® to optimize their practice. From insurance products to the Career Center and practice finance options, including the AOA Business Card, AOAExcel offers personal and professional resources that allow you to practice with confidence.
The AOA Center for Independent Practice has developed key resources to help optometric practices comply with the new law, including information on who should report and how to file info on their ownership. Find out what the AOA is doing to relieve the paperwork burden on optometric practices.