Patients First


Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013

“To build a practice you have to put your patients’ interests first and you absolutely have to deliver,” says Arthur Cummings MD, FRCS. He should know. With partner Richard Corkin, he has built the Wellington Eye Clinic into one of Ireland’s most successful private ophthalmology practices. Dr Cummings and other successful surgeons and practice managers will share their insights and experience at the ESCRS Practice Management Weekend, November 1-3, in Frankfurt, Germany. Building Your Own Practice – Assumptions and Truths, is the theme.

While it’s important to spread the word about your excellent service and outcomes, Dr Cummings cautions against exaggerated or unsupportable claims, like promising 20/20 uncorrected vision. “Under-promise and over-deliver. It is very important to give people an indication of what you can do, and leave it at that.” Patients with reasonable expectations that are subsequently exceeded then become your most persuasive advocates, Dr Cummings says. “Good service leads to strong word-of-mouth. People are far more inclined to come to you if they hear about you from a friend or family member than if they read about you. Word-of-mouth is a much stronger lead.”
A staff well-trained in reinforcing your practice message also helps seal the relationship, Dr Cummings adds. “From the very first call, it should be friendly and engaging. When they walk in, they see a warm, friendly face and the technicians, nurses and doctors all convey the same message. When someone asks a question, you want to reinforce the good impression. It can be very disturbing to a patient when they get a different message from one person than the rest of the staff.”

Academic, public or private?

With state financial support for health slipping, practice development skills are just as important in an academic or public practice as they are in private practice. Just ask Thomas Kohnen MD, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and deputy chairman at Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany, who will share his experience building an academic practice in today’s competitive ophthalmology market. Once again, the key to attracting patients is excellent service and outcomes, Prof Kohnen says. He also emphasises the importance of establishing partnerships with private industry, independent surgeons and entrepreneurs to advance academic research.
Yet working in a regimented academic setting can be difficult, especially for young surgeons with family responsibilities. Eva- Maria Kohnen MD and Ina Hengerer MD, also both of Germany, discuss work-life balance in moving from residency to clinical practice. They both found private practice a more flexible alternative to public settings. Manfred Tetz MD, Berlin, will discuss his journey building Eye Centre Spreebogen from a small start-up into a large clinic providing a complete range of surgical, medical and diagnostic ophthalmology. He believes that offering a complete service line helps a practice weather the vicissitudes of a changing economy, demographics and patient needs – a strategy that he has used to grow 10 per cent annually for more than a decade.

Measuring performance

Improving performance means measuring performance, says Eckhard Weingaertner MD of EuroEyes, Berlin, Germany. He recommends tracking, analysing and creating improvement plans for both clinical and business processes. “Refractive outcomes are especially important – visual acuity, night vision and so on, but patient satisfaction is also very important. The patient can be 20/20, but to recommend you they also have to be happy with the experience,” Dr Weingaertner says.
In addition to surgeon performance and clinical outcomes, Dr Weingaertner suggests establishing performance measures for staff, such as conversion rates for patient counsellors and cost per lead for marketing staff. Monitor calls coming in to make sure staff are polite and answer questions. He also recommends tracking effectiveness of marketing approaches, such as advertising on radio, buses and phone books. “Marketing is very expensive. If you don’t know which tool is good you can waste a lot of money.” In technical areas, the cost-effectiveness of new technology also should be considered, Dr Weingaertner says. While the latest laser is nice to have, it may make more sense to wait a year for the price to come down.

Staff counts, too

Just as important as making sure your staff does the right thing is making sure you have the right staff, says Kris Morrill, a practice management consultant with medeuronet, based in Strasbourg, France. She will present on hiring the right people for the job, and the sensitive matter of getting rid of employees who don’t fit in. Many staffing problems can be avoided by adhering to hiring best practices, Ms Morrill says. “Look for people with professional qualifications and experience. The classic mistake is to hire your wife or your brotherin- law not because they know how to run a practice, but because they want a job.”
Getting rid of a relative can be tough, but so can letting go any employee. Ms Morrill will also offer tips on protecting yourself from unfair dismissal claims when terminating an employee. Consultant Rod Solar of LiveseySolar Practice Builders, London, UK, wraps up the programme with a seminar on medical marketing. “You can’t not market your practice, Mr Solar says. “It is mandatory to grow and create awareness of your services.”