By Kimberly K. Friedman, OD, FAAO

I recently had the privilege of attending my daughter’s graduation ceremony from New York University, during which the student commencement speaker recalled being asked by a professor, “Who are you? What can you uniquely contribute to the world?” The eloquence of the young man’s words prompted me to think about ways that independent eye care professionals can uniquely contribute to our patients. How do we distinguish ourselves from the noise that fills the eye care space?

Here is my list of five recommendations for differentiating your practice.

  1. Take the time to connect and make a note of it.
    For example, if a patient mentions the birth of a new grandchild, add a note of the grandchild’s name in your chart. That way, you can personalize future inquiries about the grandchild, calling him or her by name, during upcoming visits. It will make a tremendous impression on the patient that you “remembered” the grandchild’s name.
  2. Pick one patient a month to receive a special gift.
    Maybe a patient had surgery or celebrated a milestone or always refers patients. For the cost of a simple flower arrangement or chocolate-covered strawberries, you can create a tremendous amount of buzz when these recipients tell others how they received a surprise from their eye doctor. Plus, it will make your staff feel good. You can even cultivate a sense of excitement in the office by rotating the staff member who gets the honor of picking the special recipient each month.
  3. Use the power of new technology.
    Many of us incorporate new technology into our practices on a regular basis, but how often do we utilize the acquisition of that technology to serve as a differentiator? Remember that each time we obtain new technology, it presents an opportunity for us to educate patients and promote our practice. Develop a page on your website specifically devoted to promoting your new technology; post about the new equipment on Facebook and Twitter or send out an email announcement about this new technology to your entire database. Have the technician work into each encounter a brief statement about what is new in your office. A sample script might be, “It’s great to see you again this year, Mrs. Smith. Since you were here last we have two new technicians whom I will introduce you to before you leave. Also, we have obtained an exciting new technology called _____. It allows us to _____ . I’m sure the doctor will tell you about it if it applies to your eye health and vision.”
  4. Speaking of staff, hire on personality; you can train the rest.
    I know it is tempting to hire the experienced interviewee who already knows the difference between plus and minus lenses, but was he or she the friendliest and most likeable candidate? One of my technicians whom my patients consistently praise was a waitress prior to working for us and knew nothing about medical office work. You can train someone to be an efficient team member in your office, but you can’t train personality, empathy and warmth.
  5. Look at your office through fresh eyes.
    We become so accustomed to how our office looks and feels, making it important to take a fresh look around periodically. Walk in through the patient entrance, take a deep breath and take a good, close look. Is there a half-dead plant by the door? Are the magazines from two years ago? Are the reception chairs comfortable and clean? Can you see dust bunnies? Sit in the patient exam chair and look at the equipment, the floors, the desks and all around. The physical appearance of your office matters. Ask all new employees to help out by taking notes on how a new person experiences the look, feel and flow of an exam. Tell them the purpose of this exercise is not only for them to see what you do in the office but also to gain constructive feedback about what you can do to improve the office.

Have a Question or Feedback? Dr. Kimberly Friedman would love to hear from you with questions on this topic or other ways to bring simple strategies for success into your practice. So what are you doing to differentiate your practice? Send her your stories. Email [email protected].

Dr. Friedman is a partner in a private practice in Moorestown, New Jersey. She also serves on the HEA National Advisory Board.