In recent years, ophthalmologists in the United States earned $366k on average, which was above the middle earners for all physician specialties, according to the Medscape Ophthalmologist Compensation Report. Owning your own ophthalmology practice comes with many attractive benefits, and the potential to earn such a high income is just one of them.
You might think that success in the field of ophthalmology is all about the quality of care that you deliver. Well, think again… While the importance of high-quality care cannot be overstated, the success of your ophthalmology practice truly hinges on how you manage your practice and your team.
But practice management is a challenging area for most eye care professionals because it requires many business and HR skills that you probably didn’t master during your time in school.
Fortunately, you don’t have to learn practice management on your own; there are many great practice management resources, training opportunities, software, networking events, and professional advisors out there that can help your practice thrive!
This guide to ophthalmology practice management will help point you in the right direction, assemble the best possible team, choose the best practice management tools, and position you for success. Let’s get started!
Getting Started with Ophthalmology Practice Management
First of all, let’s be clear about what we mean when we use the term “ophthalmology practice management.” Ophthalmology practice management can be defined as managing all the business aspects of your ophthalmology practice – basically anything and everything beyond delivering actual medical care – including operations, finance, IT, marketing, human resources, and compliance.
Of course, you don’t have to master all these skills and manage your practice all on your own; you can assemble a capable team, set clear roles, and delegate responsibilities to allow you to focus more on practicing ophthalmology. Alternatively, you can also outsource responsibilities if your team is not able to handle them in-house. Some of the key roles that contribute to ophthalmology practice management include:
- Owner/Physician: Though your primary responsibility as a physician is to provide top-quality care to your patients, if you own your own practice, you’ll also need to oversee the management and help “steer the ship” in the right direction.
- Office Manager/Administrator: Many physicians hire a skilled Office Manager or Administrator to handle the bulk of practice management responsibilities, including tasks such as: paying bills, preparing payroll, recruiting and supervising staff, obtaining staff benefits and insurance, negotiating contracts with vendors, staying up-to-date on government regulations, preparing productivity reports, acting as the compliance officer, and more.
- Front Desk/Receptionist: This person will act as the face of your practice, so they should have stellar customer service skills. Typical duties include things such as scheduling appointments, welcoming and checking in clients, prepping charts, maintaining accurate records, triaging patient concerns, and other similar tasks.
- Billing & Coding: Having someone on your team specifically trained in ophthalmic billing and coding is extremely important, as under-billing or incorrect coding can trigger serious ramifications for your optometry practice, from financial audits to expensive fines, to charges of fraud and other criminal consequences. Because medical billing codes are frequently updated, this person must have access to regular training and support resources.
- Ophthalmic Technicians: Ophthalmic technicians play a supporting role to physicians, performing initial prep work and diagnostic tests on patients, assisting with in-office procedures, and ensuring supplies are stocked and instruments are sterilized.
- Ophthalmology Practice Consultants: Not all responsibilities must be kept in-house. Many practices choose to outsource some practice management duties or consult with ophthalmology practice advisors when internal skills or knowledge are missing.
Hiring the Right Ophthalmology Practice Manager
As you probably gleaned from the section above, hiring a capable office manager or administrator is one of the best ways to set your practice up for success. Ideally, you’ll find someone who can step in and fill any gaps in your own management skills.
Generally speaking, when recruiting an office manager, you’ll want to look for someone with the following skills and characteristics:
- Several years of relevant experience in an optometric or ophthalmic setting.
- Effective time management in order to handle all the moving parts of the position.
- Highly detail-oriented and organized.
- Good with people — able to communicate clearly, delegate effectively, and motivate others on the team.
- Self-motivated and passionate about helping your practice succeed and grow.
- Familiarity with any software your practice might rely on.
These are just a few generic skills and qualities to look for. The right person for your practice will also align with your specific values, culture, and goals.
Choosing the Best Ophthalmology Practice Management System
Practice management software is a valuable tool that can help your team, particularly your office manager/administrator, stay organized and on top of things. Choosing a top-rated practice management system specifically designed for ophthalmologists is a smart investment that can enhance your overall practice management.
Most practice management systems and software include at least three key functionalities: appointment scheduling, claims and statements, and reporting. There are more comprehensive systems out there, of course, but these are a few of the most important elements.
Investing in a software system for your ophthalmology practice can help your practice in many substantial ways. For one, it can help increase the ease and efficiency of your practice’s essential processes, including check-in, checkout, billing, scheduling, and collections. Additionally, it can help minimize errors and improve the accuracy of your records – both medical and financial.
Ophthalmology practice management software can also help you track outcomes and compile key data. This data can then be used to measure employee performance and motivate your team, and to market and grow your practice. Many ophthalmology practices claim to provide high-quality care but lack the numbers to prove it, so this is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the pack.
Some of the most popular software systems in the field of ophthalmology include the following:
- CureMD’s Practice Management Software: This software is a complete, web-based practice management solution that streamlines clinical, administrative, and financial operations. It can help your practice increase reimbursements, improve overall efficiency, stay ahead of compliance requirements, and much more.
- Modernizing Medicine’s Modmed BOOST: Modmed® BOOST is an all-in-one system that combines practice management technology and business operations services to help your entire practice run more smoothly. This software works seamlessly alongside Modern Medicine’s Electronic Medical Assistant® (EMA™) for ophthalmology.
- Medflow’s My Vision Express: This software combines Optical Point-of-Sale, Project Management (PM), Electronic Health Record (EHR), Patient Engagement, Vision & Medical Billing, and Reporting solutions into one comprehensive system. With PM features like demographic and insurance information, prescription history, health records, appointments, and order history, your team will be able to manage patient records as effectively and accurately as possible.
- EyeMD EMR Practice Management: EyeMD specializes in providing solutions for ophthalmologists. This software is a fully-integrated billing and real-time claims management system that automates accounts receivables management and produces extensive reports to help ophthalmologists better manage their practices.
- Nextech Ophthalmology: This PM software includes fast scheduling tools to maximize patient volume and physician productivity and an electronic billing system to improve practice profitability and efficiency.
In order to ensure you choose the best software to aid your practice management, it’s a good idea to talk to other ophthalmologists and seek their recommendations.
Ophthalmology Private Practice: Tips for Success
As previously mentioned, successful ophthalmology practice management requires knowledge and skills that aren’t often taught in a classroom setting. In our many years of experience supporting ophthalmology practice owners, managers, and staff, we’ve learned what separates a good practice from a great one. Below are some general practice management tips that will help your practice grow and flourish:
- Conduct Regular Strategic Planning: You should set goals for your practice and make sure that everyone on your team is working together to achieve them. Make sure the goals you set are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). But keep in mind, just setting goals isn’t enough on its own; you need to create a strategic plan that will guide you towards achieving those goals and keep you on track.
- Establish Operational Guidelines: Putting guidelines in place can help improve your patient care and operations. First and foremost, be sure your team is aware of any relevant AOA Optometric Clinical Practice Guidelines. It’s also a good idea to develop additional guidelines and/or procedures related to your operations to give your team a more complete set of guidelines to follow.
- Invest in Ongoing Training & Education: One of the most important aspects of ophthalmology practice management is ensuring that your staff members provide the highest possible quality of care. One of the key ways to do this is to support their credentialing and then provide them with plenty of ongoing opportunities to keep learning and developing their skills. It’s also important to conduct regular peer reviews and identify areas for improvement.
- Create a Detailed Practice Budget: A budget is the foundational framework for your practice’s finances. Surprisingly, studies show that less than 20% of large optometric practices have a formal practice budget. Creating a detailed budget will help set you ahead of your competitors and maintain a sufficient profit margin, especially if you do so alongside an ophthalmology business advisor.
- Don’t Forget About the Power of Marketing: In the modern business world, your online presence and branding are two of the most important aspects to securing new patients. In fact, 92% of healthcare consumers aged 18-34 said they go online for research before a call or in-person visit. To get started, you should develop a clear and consistent brand and establish a 1-year and 5-year marketing plan. If you’re not sure how to go about this, seek out ophthalmology marketing support or outsource your marketing completely.
- Focus on Patient Engagement: You should do everything you can to engage and educate your patients before, during, and after the procedure produces results. Positive patient reviews and referrals are extremely valuable and can really help grow your practice.
- Invest in New Technology: In order to continue providing the best possible patient care, you need to make sure your team stays up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques.
- Network With Other Physicians: The power of networking cannot be overstated. Networking with other eye care professionals will help you find mentors, know where to go for guidance, learn from others in the industry, and feel more supported and less alone in your journey as the owner of a private practice. You can also establish referral networks to help reach new patients.
- Exceptional Customer Service: No matter how great your ophthalmology skills are, you will not be able to retain patients unless your practice can also provide good customer service. You should put yourself in your patient’s shoes regularly in order to evaluate the entire patient experience, from the first moment they contact you until they walk out your doors.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside the Box: Although you might not associate ophthalmology practice management with creativity, it’s important to think outside of the box, as this is what can set you apart from your competitors. Product diversification and marketing are just a few examples of areas where you can get creative in order to adapt to challenges.
- When in Doubt, Consult With Experts: Remember, you don’t have to go at it all alone! There are countless resources and support systems available to help your practice thrive. Ophthalmology consulting can help you conduct a practice assessment, review your performance indicators, complete a profit and loss analysis, audit and improve your billing and coding procedures, and much more. It’s an invaluable resource that will help you continually learn, grow, and improve.
Additional Ophthalmic Management Resources
Below are three essential resources to consider if you’re looking to improve your ophthalmology practice management:
- American Academy of Ophthalmology Training: The AAO is a great place to look for ophthalmology practice management training opportunities and resources. They hold regular webinars and other virtual events on different practice management topics, such as ophthalmology coding updates, MIPS reporting, IRIS registry, and many more.
- Ophthalmologist Networking Events: Networking in the field of ophthalmology is essential. You can learn so much from your peers and feel more supported when challenges arise. PECAA is a collaborative community of like-minded, independent eye care professionals who are committed to growing their practices together. PECAA members can take advantage of many networking opportunities, including in-person peer-to-peer dinners, national events, and an exclusive online discussion board and membership directory. With all these connections, you will never feel alone in your practice management.
- Professional Ophthalmology Practice Consulting Services: Sometimes talking to your peers just won’t cut it, and you need to call in for backup. This is where professional ophthalmology consulting can come into play and help you overcome more advanced challenges. A PECAA eye care advisor can help you complete a practice assessment, conduct a staffing analysis, manage your accounts receivable, work through complex billing and coding issues, and so much more.
Broaden Your Network With the Best Ophthalmology Practice Consultants
There is, of course, much more that goes into running an ophthalmology practice, but we hope that these tips help you get started and know where to turn for support along the way.
If you’re feeling at all overwhelmed, consider joining PECAA, a growing community of independent eye care professionals committed to growing our practices together. As a member of PECAA, you’ll have access to an unrivaled toolbox of resources to help grow your business as well as exclusive and customized consulting from our team of experts to set you up for success. On top of all that, you can earn substantial discounts and rebates through our group buying power and vetted vendor partnerships.
Join today and you’ll be well on your way to seamless ophthalmology practice management!