Offering clinical eye care around the clock can be a tremendous asset for your patients and your practice. Never will your services be more desired than when an acute ocular emergency occurs after hours. With few emergency physicians available who truly understand how to treat eye disease, it’s a good time to exploit this vital niche of medical eye care. In this article, I explain how I have done so.

PICTURE THIS

It’s 6:00 pm on a Friday, and your clinic has been closed for 1 hour. The weekend has begun, and most doctors won’t open their doors until Monday morning. One of your patients has developed an acute red eye and is in a full-blown panic. Monday morning is forever away, and she needs your expert assistance now.

How many eye care practitioners have developed a model allowing them to be easily accessed outside of routine business hours? Herein lies the opportunity for you, your patients, and your community.

PAUSE AND REWIND

Let’s start from the beginning. What is the best way for our patients to learn about the services we offer? By our telling them. Even if a patient is in your chair for a routine visit, it’s still an opportunity to educate him or her on the myriad services you can provide.

At the end of every examination I tell my patients that, if they ever have an eye emergency such as an infection or injury, they should let me know first. I make sure that the patient understands that he or she can reach me easily after hours. If a patient calls my clinic after work, he or she is prompted to press 1 for an eye emergency. The call is then directed straight to my mobile phone, and the patient can reach me virtually anywhere. I have thousands of patients, and all of them know how to reach me.

I have found that personally educating each patient individually has been a great avenue toward increasing my practice. Interestingly, 80% of my emergency calls are not from my regular patients. These patients also know about the services I provide, but how? This is accomplished through diligent networking.

CLAIM YOUR GROUND

The medical community assumes that all medical eye care runs through ophthalmology. This mindset is taught in all health care programs (eg, medical schools, physician assistant programs, nursing schools). Not many health care providers who encounter an acute eye emergency would think about referring the patient to an optometrist, but why not? Optometrists spend 4 years learning about how to treat ocular pathology, and many go on to complete competitive 1-year residencies that are centered on cases often thought to be treatable only by ophthalmologists.

If other physicians and health care providers understood the extraordinary knowledge that optometrists have about the eye, these cases would be funneled directly into our clinics. I have spent years visiting local hospitals, urgent care facilities, private practices, pediatric clinics, family practices, and any other place where a patient may end up with an eye emergency. I drop off business cards, coffee, donuts, gift cards, and whatever else I can to emphasize my message: that I can deal directly with all nonsurgical ocular diseases and emergencies.

Although this message was received slowly at first (remember, other providers think that optometrists only prescribe contact lenses and glasses), the point has now been ingrained in my community. I have successfully treated hundreds of patients referred from my medical community.

Months later, many of these same physicians who once gazed at me bewildered during my 2-minute spiel at their clinics are now my personal patients. And their families are my personal patients—because I take care of their patients.

When you treat ocular disease and emergency cases, consider sending a one-page report to the patient’s primary care physician or referring eye care provider. I like to state my diagnosis, the treatment plan, and plan of action for the patient, and I fax this report over on the same day as the patient’s exam. This has been beneficial in showing referring providers the types of cases I can effectively treat.

HANG ON TO YOUR PATIENTS

Patient retention is an equally important component of building a medical practice. This means not sending nonsurgical cases to our surgical counterparts (ophthalmology).

Your growth and comfort in medical eye care will come only through experiencing times of discomfort, and perhaps moments of uncertainty. These feeling can be muted over the course of your career, but only through your efforts. If you encounter a case in which your diagnosis is uncertain, simply schedule the patient to return for follow-up soon, and make sure he or she can reach you immediately should the status change.

Constantly referring complex cases out will not allow you to grow your medical practice, no matter how much networking you spend on your behalf. Just because a case looks complex doesn’t mean you can’t discern a straightforward diagnosis and treatment plan.

PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF

I recently received a Facebook notification that a friend had mentioned me. I opened my app to see a picture of a young girl with swollen eyes. Her mother was in distress and had taken to social media for assistance. It was so satisfying to see dozens of people commenting on her feed, suggesting that she take her daughter to my clinic and telling her that I was available at all times.

After more than 3 years spent in creating my medical brand, I’m not sure there are many people left in my small community who are unaware of the services I can provide in times of need. These networking processes take time, patience, understanding, and even some sleepless nights. Not only do our patients require all of these things, but they also deserve them. If you offer, they will come.