• Boost Practice Efficiency, Part 11: Running an Optical Dispensary

    By Leslie Burling-Phillips, Contributing Writer

    This article is from February 2009 and may contain outdated material.

    Many factors affect the over all performance of an optical dispensary. While the concept of integration—bringing together the medical practice and dispensary to function symbiotically as one entity—is the foundation for your optical shop’s success, other important factors can boost its efficiency. Consider how the design of your dispensary is engaging patients, whether you can do more to reduce theft, and—if you have a paper-based system for tracking transactions—whether you should computerize your optical shop.

    Efficient Dispensary Design

    You have assembled a team of trained opticians who communicate well with you and your patients. You offer a wide variety of products that appeal to a broad range of eye health consumers. And, you have taken the time to integrate your practice with your dispensary (see last month’s Practice Perfect). Nevertheless, your dispensary is still underperforming and not quite meeting your expectations. What could be the problem?

    Do you need to update your dispensary? If you think you do need to change the look of your dispensary, you should not proceed without a well-thought-out plan. You should allocate considerable time and effort to researching the best way to market your products. You must create a plan that displays your products effectively while utilizing the available space most efficiently.

    What is your competition doing? Checking out the competition can provide you with a lot of basic information about how a dispensary should—or should not—be operated. “Take some time and look around inside other local dispensaries. Determine what you like and what you do not like as a customer. Discovering what else is out there and how your competitors’ floor plans and techniques can be improved upon can help you differentiate your business from theirs,” said Robert B. Gollance, MD, co-owner of The Eye Institute in Wayne, N.J.

    Establish “traffic patterns.” While the dispensary floor plan should allow patients to move through the space in an efficient manner, its traffic patterns should ensure that they see the frames that you most want them to see.

    “Most consultants will agree that the best design integrates the dispensary as part of the waiting room, or at least situates it contiguously. Locating the dispensary close to patient check-out also invites the patient into the space. Visually, it tells the patient that you are in the eyeglass business. Therefore, when the patient exits the practice, they are literally standing at or near the optical shop. This is the optimal design model,” said Arthur De Gennaro, president of Arthur De Gennaro & Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in ophthal - mic dispensary issues.

    Display your merchandise effectively. When Dr. Gollance and his partners renovated their dispensary and fully integrated it with their practice, “a lot of thought went into the cabinetry. We thoroughly analyzed how we should display our frames and how each of the different price points should be separated so our products would be best received by our patients,” said Dr. Gollance. “Some of our frames are stored in glass desks so our patients are able to look down and compare shapes. We have found that this is a good way to display some of our products, particularly rimless frames, which are more difficult to see when displayed in a wall cabinet.”

    Light the way. “Lighting is very impor tant,” said Dr. Gollance. Use lighting to create an inviting atmosphere that not only draws your patients into your dispensary but also attracts them toward particular focal points within the dispensary. The way that you illuminate your displays can attract attention toward or detract attention away from an area or object. “The eye has a tendency to be drawn toward things that are bright and look away from things that are dimly lit,” said Mr. De Gennaro. “Even the color temperature of the lighting is important. You do not want to cast the wrong color onto the merchandise. Equally important, you do not want your lighting to cast the wrong color onto patients who are trying on your frames and looking at themselves in the mirror.”

    Bigger can be better. Learning by example, as previously mentioned, can be quite effective. “Large brand” optical dispensaries are just that—large, wideopen spaces with an expansive frame showroom filled with countless frames from which to choose. Although it is not necessary to expand your dispensary to this size to compete effectively, Mr. De Gennaro recommends that if you have the space, you should utilize it. “Too many ophthalmology dispensaries are too small,” he said. “This is generally because they were retrofitted into businesses that already existed. The newer ones are starting to get a little bigger, but they still do not look like the commercial spaces that have been around forever. The short rule of thumb right now is that bigger is better.”

    Preventing Theft

    Theft, both internal and external, can significantly undermine your efforts to boost practice profitability. Although you are never likely to eliminate theft altogether, it is possible to minimize its occurrence.

    Theft by employees. To some, the statistics may be surprising, but employ ee theft is actually quite common. “One-third of all employees steal,” reported Mr. De Gennaro. “Theft usually intensifies around the holidays. People who are financially overextended or abuse substances tend to pose the greatest problem,” he said. One way ophthalmology practices can protect themselves is by screening prospective employees with a comprehensive background check, which should include a review of their employment, criminal and financial histories.

    Theft by patients. Some merchandise is more susceptible to theft—nonprescription sunglasses and contact lenses are two product categories that are the most vulnerable. Should you lock such items in cases, so patients can’t access them without an optician’s assistance? According to Dr. Gollance, “there is a pro and con to how you display your frames. If you display them on an open shelf, somebody might take them. If you lock them up, it can be a put-off for legitimate customers who want to feel, touch and try them out. This is particularly true if the optician is helping some - one else. Customers who are able to try on frames tend to stay in the dispensary longer. You accept the idea of either losing a few frames or losing a few patients because they leave.”

    Computerize Your Dispensary

    Although computerization can improve efficiency, it is perhaps understandable that some practices balk at the initial costs that this involves. They decide not to computerize their dispensaries because they have the perception that they are too small to benefit, or they do not want to incur the added expense. They do not fill very many prescriptions each day and think that it will be easy enough to manage the records. Although this may seem sufficient, computerization of the dispensary is an important part of complete integration.

    “In the absence of computerization, a dispensary is left to run its business with paper and pencil,” said Mr. De Gennaro. “Most small business dispensaries do not process a lot of transactions each day. But although the number of daily transactions is low, a computerized dispensary is almost an absolute necessity. Computerization enables the optician to take an order, transmit it to the lab for processing and check on the order as well as communicate with the lab or reorder products. All of these things can be done manually but can usually be completed much faster when the dispensary is computerized. Further, the quality of the work is higher because the potential for human error is much lower.”


    Contact Mr. De Gennaro via the AAOE Consultant Directory at www.aao.org/aaoesite/consultant.