HCPs Can Learn 'Best Practices' From Amazon, Southwest Airlines

Caroline Helwick

June 25, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC — Optometrists, or any healthcare provider, for that matter, could learn a thing or two from Amazon and Southwest Airlines, according to two private practitioners who shared some "best practices" here at Optometry's Meeting by the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Kerry Giedd, OD, from Eola Eyes in Orlando, Florida, and Casey Hogan, OD, from Advanced Eye Professionals in Chicago, Illinois, have been growing their practices since in 2003. They were both part of Cooper Vision's inaugural Best Practices Program, and they participated in a "Fireside Chat" at the meeting to share what they have learned, including ways to stay ahead of the competition.

Dr Giedd is an assistant professor of medical education at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine and was named a "Florida Women in Business Champion of the Year." Dr Hogan directs the Chicago Dry Eye Center of Excellence and the Chicago Scleral Lens Center of Excellence.

What Amazon Can Teach You

Amazon is now worth more than $425 billion, ranks 12th in US sales, and just purchased Whole Foods Market. For optometrists practicing in traditional settings, are consumer and online behemoths such as Amazon a cause for panic or inspiration? Dr Giedd tackled this question.

One cannot ignore the onslaught of disruptive technologies, such as Warby Parker, Simple Contacts, InstaRx, and the like. Simple Contacts offers a $10 app to renew contact lenses online and is currently functioning in about 40 states. InstaRx lets patients renew contact lens prescriptions for $20. These are just a few new players in the eye care world that can be perceived as threatening to traditional providers.

However, such entities can also prompt the field of optometry to "evolve and perhaps revolutionize how our profession serves its patients and meets its needs," Dr Giedd suggested. "Though we need to be aware of these things, they are not necessarily driving forces. Don't get caught up in the Warby Parker/Simple Contacts mentality. Step back and look at what's going on in the wider world that is changing our patients' expectations."

Step back and look at what's going on in the wider world that is changing our patients' expectations. Dr Kerry Giedd

The recent acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon is an example of the revolution in personalized online shopping. "It's the kind of thing that gets our wheels turning — to envision how this will translate into our profession. There's been speculation that Amazon is now looking at Warby Parker. But instead of focusing on this as a threat, we can look at it as something that raises the bar," she said.

In other words, Amazon-sized actions can be "inspirations," she said, if practitioners understand they can actually offer more.

"It can feel very defeating. You work hard, you feel like you develop relationships and loyalty, and it's not always rewarded by every patient," she acknowledged. "But you should be constantly striving to do better and give patients a reason to choose you, because you are not just offering a commodity that they can buy on Amazon. You are offering an experience, and hopefully a service they cannot find elsewhere."

Specialty contact lens and multifocal lens fitting cannot be accomplished through an app, just as dry eye and ocular surface disease are not conditions that can be captured online, she said.

Dr Hogan agreed that optometrists can offer patients an experience "they can't buy online"; however, they must also offer patients "the value that they do find online." She said, "We need to be able to compete with that."

Make Yourself Visible

With more than 1000 locations just for MyEyeDr and America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, stand-alone practices need visibility. For this, your brick-and-mortar presence is not enough, Dr Hogan emphasized.

"You have to have a strong Web presence," she said. "Our practice is constantly looking at our metrics — not just our business metrics, such as capture rate, new patients, and so forth, but things like search engine optimization."

Dr Hogan has hired experts to enhance her practice's Web presence. "We put dollars into that space," she said.

Such "patient communication platforms" serviced by Web experts are worth the money, she maintained. "If there's one thing I highly recommend, it's one of these. They are effective in communicating your special needs.... After a recent promotion, for example, we had one of our best months ever. Our Web experts helped us determine how to do this right."

With three separate websites focusing on each of Dr Hogan's areas of expertise (contact lenses, anterior segment management, and dry eye therapeutic care), her company's digital presence has grown, and with it, the success of the practice. "We market to those separate niches," she explained.

Her practice also uses Google AdWords to enhance her Web traffic "These days, if you own a practice, or any business, this is a huge purchase, but ask your new patients how they found you, and many will say, 'On the Internet.' Within 4 months of using Google AdWords, we got a lot of new patients," she said. "Google AdWords has been very effective in my practice."

Lighten Your Patients' Load

Taking cues from Amazon, the speakers have also examined ways "to make it easy to do business with us," as Dr Giedd put it. Her patients are able to text to the office and to receive appointment reminders via text, schedule appointments online, and in most ways interact with her staff without making a telephone call.

"Many patients today have no desire to pick up the phone. This type of service can be the deal breaker or deal maker for patients coming to our office," she said.

From Southwest Airlines' Playbook

Keeping patients happy is one thing; keeping staff happy is another. The speakers' model for employee satisfaction was Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines prides itself in offering employees "something bigger than a paycheck," said Dr Hogan, who has had less than 1% turnover in staff since 2003. "Your staff is the backbone of your team. Engage them, empower them, make them feel they are an important part of your community. Train your staff well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough so they won't want to."

Dr Giedd agrees, "The overriding message is, 'Invest in your staff.' Hone in on the strategies that work for you."

She has worked at building loyalty from her staff, and in differentiating her practice from others so that staff members do not seek greener pastures. She provides full health benefits, a 401(k) plan, and productivity incentives. These things are expensive, she acknowledged, "but it's worth it to retain very good people, and this should be your goal."

Other perks of the practice are a share of organic produce that comes straight to the office door every 2 weeks, and many "rewards" and social activities that build comradery, she said. This is in keeping with her business' mission statement, which is, "We uniquely care for our patients, staff, and community."

Dr Hogan said one of her tactics is to "lead from behind," which conveys trust. Team members who reach goals are rewarded with paid days off in her office.

For Dr Giedd, the TINYpulse employee engagement program has been "a game-changer in terms of culture in the office." TINYpulse has been used by more than 1000 businesses, including Capital One and Michelin, according to its Web site. One of its components is "Cheers for Peers," which encourages staff to offer positive feedback for work well done by a colleague. "Sometimes the culture in one's office is to focus on what's not done right. 'Cheers for Peers' encourages people to compliment their colleagues."

It is done through desk top computers and smart phones. For each "cheer" received, employees receive a raffle ticket for a monthly prize drawing. "It's shifted our thinking. We now lift each other up and focus on things that are done right," she said.

Two other components include an anonymous suggestion box, and a "one-question-a-week" that TINYpulse sends to employees. "We get great feedback about how staff feel working in our office," she said. "I think this program has challenged us to be responsive to our staff and engage with them, and it's reaped huge rewards."

In Dr Hogan's office, communication has been improved by one-on-one 5-minute weekly meetings between herself and staff members. Making time for this can be difficult, but she feels this personal time with staff is important. Her office also does quick "cross-training" exercises where staff observe others doing their jobs.

The one thing you want to do in practice is to never stop chasing excellence, in patient care and in caring for your staff. Dr Casey Hogan

"These are inexpensive things you can do to make your office more effective," she said. "The one thing you want to do in practice is to never stop chasing excellence, in patient care and in caring for your staff."

Attendee Takeaways

Jon Akle OD, from Sherwood Park in Alberta, Canada, will be opening an optometry practice soon and told Medscape Medical News that the speakers' tips were useful. "It's good to hear about what one can do with their staff, how to keep things flowing smoothly. If you can't run staff well, your whole office can crumble," he said. "I definitely want to implement programs to keep staff my motivated and unified, such as reward programs."

David Parker, OD, from Olive Branch, Mississippi, said he also heard some practical tips. "I like to hear ideas from different areas of the country. I have a staff of about 25 people, and we do some of these things already," he said. "We have a bonus program now, but I'll probably go back and say let's mix it up, and maybe next month offer a different incentive than a financial bonus. I also like the idea of having multiple Web sites instead of just one. I hadn't thought about that."

Dr Giedd has served in a consulting or advisory role and has received speaking fees from Bausch & Lomb and Cooper Vision. Dr Hogan has served in a consulting or advisory role and has received speaking fees for Cooper Vision.

Optometry's Meeting by the American Optometric Association (AOA): Fireside Chat: Your Real Competition? Amazon, Southwest, and New Expectations. Presented June 23, 2017.

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