Trying to increase your patient base is hard. It is even harder as a new graduate.
As new graduates, it is difficult to be compared to OD’s who have been practicing for multiple years.
Oftentimes, an older doctor may be perceived (and naturally is) as more experienced, point blank. However, new grads may feel they have a concrete foundation on basic optometric practices, and maybe even more knowledge on the latest topics and studies, but being labeled the “new OD” has its challenges.
Experience is the best teacher, but what happens when our opportunities to gain experience is being limited by a misconception that we do not know what we are doing solely because of the graduation date on our degree? Sometimes, patients don’t realize that being a new OD does not mean this is our first encounter with patients. On the contrary, we are actually beginning our fifth year in this field.
Yes, four years were spent in optometry school which can be considered a safe environment, but now we are in the real world and prepared to take on the next phase as a clinician.
This is why building our own identity as an optometrist is the only route to success and is vital in order to gain confidence and increase our patient base. This obviously will not happen overnight, but with lots of work and dedication you can make it happen.
Here I will share my tips on how to build your identity and increase your patient base by networking.
1) Networking In the Field
Networking is sometimes an intimidating word or idea but it is essential in our field.
Being primary eye care providers, we are required to build a group of connections to whom we will refer and entrust our patients to. These connections are built between OD’s and other ophthalmologists, internists, endocrinologists, neurologists and more.
Starting off, the best way to meet other local healthcare providers is to research them online.
Make a list of connections you want to make and setup a time to go meet them and introduce yourself. In doing so, you will learn more about the doctor, what their office stands for, and determine if you can trust them to take care of your patients. This opposite is also true! Hopefully, once you gain the trust of these other medical professionals, they will in turn refer their patients to you for annual eye exams.
My tip: when going to meet other healthcare providers, be on your A game. Learn about who they are and what they do so you can ask the necessary questions during your meeting. Bring along your business cards or referral pads and a nice short letter that states all the services you provide ie: diabetic eye exams, hypertensive eye exams, long-term medication (ie: plaquenil) eye exams, and any other diagnostic testing available at your office facility.
Another great way to meet healthcare providers is during continuing education courses.
Don’t be scared to mingle with the other doctors at these events and learn about all the things they are doing in their office.
Share contact information with these doctors and make an effort to stay connected with them because you never know when you might need advice or when an opportunity might present itself. Meeting doctors out of your area helps spread your name in times of need. Patients are always traveling and if something were to happen to a patient while they are in your area, these other healthcare providers might be inclined to keep you in mind. Encounters like these can blossom into word of mouth referrals.
Once in a while the pharmaceutical, contact lenses, or eyeglass industry will host events or dinners in your local area.
Building connections with people in industry is important because they can help you obtain the newest information on products in the market. Get on a first name basis with them to help ensure that you will be the first point of contact for them when something great is about to come up.
2) Networking in the Community
Networking in the local community is great publicity for your new identity as an OD.
Find local charities, homeless shelters, and clubs that you can help volunteer in. The public needs to connect your name to your face, and this is one of the best routes to take in bringing positive light to your character.
Joining the rotary club, the chamber of commerce, the Lion’s Club and others are all great ways to build connections with other business owners and your community. From personal experience, sometimes these connections seem far-fetched but you never know where you may gain a patient from.
I joined the local realtors club, which sounds quite random but looking at what this club can provide for my identity is endless. Realtors are always selling new homes in local areas and are always being asked about good schools, good restaurants, and good doctors in the new area they are about to move into. Building this connection and providing these realtors with business cards can help spread your name to new families.
Staying connected to the community through social media is another great edge for new ODs.
Nowadays, everyone is glued to their smart devices in some shape or form.
Having your name present on the internet via your own website, facebook, instagram or twitter and updating tasteful, innovative, and interesting information will capture the attention of the community with your name associated with it.
Building your profile on yelp and google in order to gain positive reviews is another social outlet.
Utilize the network you already have with your current patients. Always ask current or returning patients to review you on the web, to help build your credibility as an OD. For any poor reviews, make sure to follow up personally with those patients to reduce negative publicity. Remember to thank your patients and show your appreciation for their loyalty to you by giving promotional items, discounts, or even simple personalized thank you letters.
These patients will help spread your name by word of mouth. Nothing beats that!
3) Networking with Insurance
Becoming an in-network provider with health insurance plans is the most stable network in terms of a constant flow of patients and increasing your patient base.
After graduating, getting licensed and becoming credentialed will be your go-to method of acquiring that extra source of patients. Everyone using insurance wants to be seen by an in-network doctor because it makes life simple for them.
Their exams and materials are covered to some extent and all they need to do is search and find your name listed under their plan.
As a new OD, becoming credentialed is simplified with the CAQH online portal. This is an online one stop shop portal where you will upload all your documents, certifications for various insurance companies to access in their credentialing process.
But just like insurances seek you to join their networks, you have to be informed on which networks benefit you and value you as an OD. This means looking at how much they are willing to reimburse you for your time.
- How much is a comprehensive eye exam pay?
- How much will you profit from basic optical sales?
- What are the restrictions the insurance companies place on your exams?
These are all questions you should ask when ranking which network you want to be associated with. Every geographic location is a little different with insurance plans. The best thing to do is ask other ODs or recent grads who they recommend joining. There is nothing wrong with asking others for help as needed.
You’ve worked very hard to become the optometrist you are today. Be smart in who you connect with, and be creative with the face behind your name. Be bold, think outside of the box, and don’t let being the “new” OD take away from your ability to achieve success.