As a new business owner who purchased her first practice, I have discovered the need for a multifaceted strategy. In order to be successful in the eyecare community, you must be able to compete with online retailers, other small businesses and large corporations. You must differentiate yourself from others by delivering patient satisfaction, competitive pricing, technology and practicing the medical model.

Here are four key strategies that are critical for a new practice to succeed:

Nurture good doctor-patient relationships and communication. Patients need to be able to relate to their doctor, whether it’s via small talk in the office about the local football game or through conversation about your family. Patients want to make that connection. Otherwise the patient can go anywhere and get his or her glasses changed a quarter diopter and not return the following year. If a patient feels comfortable with you they are more likely to return and refer friends and family. It gives you a competitive edge to develop a personal relationship with patients that many large corporations are not able to achieve.

Offer competitive pricing of products. Patients want to know they are getting the best products at the best price. There is a lot of competition in the eyecare marketplace. Business owners need to provide affordable pricing of products to keep patients in the office. Consider sales during the year to target the type of patient you want. For example in the late summer or early fall consider offering a back-to-school eyewear discount.

Deliver medical eyecare—and take time to educate patients about it. Patient retention is important for a successful practice. Take an extra minute with patients to fully explain why they are experiencing their symptoms and how you will help alleviate those symptoms and treat the underlying problem. Many of my patients have been to other eyecare practitioners who have not taken the time to do so. When you show you care, patients develop loyalty.

For example, if you have a glaucoma patient in your chair, describe to the patient what glaucoma is and how you are at greater risk of developing the disease if others in your family have been diagnosed with it. Simple illustrations in your office on medical eyecare conditions can provide effective patient education. These educational conversations are essential for patient retention.

Practicing medical eyecare is the key to a successful optometric practice. Patients return upon recommendation and refer others. Medical eyecare is also a revenue booster due to the need for follow-up visits and ancillary testing. Offering these services differentiates you from other eyecare practitioners who just sell eyewear.

The referrals you generate from primary care practitioners also is a win for the independent OD. For every diabetic patient I see in my office, I write a letter describing the eye exam findings, even if there is no diabetic retinopathy. Doing this is the right thing to do, but it also is free advertising to other doctors on the quality care you provide so they will continue to refer patients.

Invest in Advanced Technology. Investing in technology is a no-brainier. It produces revenue and provides quality care to your patients. Patients will be amazed at the new technology and know they are getting state-of-the-art care. By having this technology you are also differentiating yourself from other offices that do not have such instrumentation. To be able to show a patient what a chorodial nevus looks like is a great educational tool that also allows you to monitor the progression of the condition. Patients will return for a follow-up exam because you have a personal record for them–and you can bill for these photos, too!

As a business owner and doctor, you must be able to correlate the business aspects of optometry with eye diagnoses to generate revenue and have a competitive edge in your community. Implementing these four strategies will help put your practice on a path to growth.

What important business lessons did you learn during your first year of practice ownership?

Maria Sampalis, OD

Maria Sampalis, OD

Maria Sampalis, OD, is the owner of Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick, RI, and North Dartmouth, Mass. To contact her: msampalis@hotmail.com