Oculoplastic surgery can be an enormous source of revenue for the ophthalmology practice that wants to expand, and it is a sound business strategy for the right practice.
If you didn’t get much business training in medical school, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Most ophthalmologists have a great eye for detail, but not necessarily business details. So, many physicians are hesitant when it comes time to make a strategic expansion. Here, I’ll discuss the strategic considerations for adding an ocular plastic surgeon to your practice.
Healing is an art, and medicine is a profession. But health care is a business. As a business, you must have a strategy. Don’t just bring someone on and say, ‘I’ve done it.’ If you really want to commit, firmly decide how you can best expand and move forward.
Adding a Cosmetic Surgeon
If you don’t have the volume to support a full-time surgeon, you can bring in a surgeon from the community several times a month. That’s fine if you don’t expect to see much demand, and it’s an option if you want to manage your practice. The risk you take is that if you decide to recruit a full-time surgeon later, the one you’ve been using may not want to join your practice—and he’s almost certainly going to take the patients you’ve referred with him.
If you want to build your practice, then you’ll want to recruit a full-time cosmetic surgeon.
The most important thing to do before adding a surgeon of any type to your practice—but especially a cosmetic one —is market research. You’ll need to know the demographics of your current patients, plus the patients you want to acquire. You can hire a professional to help, but you can answer a lot of the big questions on your own. Here are three of them:
Question #1: Can the patients afford it?
This is almost half of the decision. First, figure out the going rate for procedures. Then, use demand forecasting to assess your geographic area. What’s the median income? How many people opt for LASIK? Are there other cosmetic plastic surgeons in your area?
Also, look within your practice. Do patients balk when a service goes up $10? How many are private pay versus reimbursable? Ask your staff about your patients. Do the patients inquire about procedures and seem like they can afford them?
There is no hard and fast benchmark for these numbers; you’ll have to make a projection for what revenue you can bring in. Cosmetics could be huge, but you have to commit to the risk first.
Question #2: If patients can afford the services, do they want them?
You may practice in an affluent area, but if it’s a retiree community in the middle of Montana, it’s not going to drive the same revenue as a community in Beverly Hills (where I practice). You also need to determine what services patients will want: eyelids, eyebrows, facelifts, Botox, fillers, cosmetic products, etc. Make sure that you can logistically handle the workflow.
Question #3: If patients can afford the services and want them, do they want them from you?
This is the final and most crucial question, and the answer might not be one that you like. You need to determine whether or not your patients trust you.
Say you recruit a cosmetic surgeon. You have a patient who inquires about aesthetic eyelid surgery. You discuss the options and the patient seems interested. You refer him to your in-house cosmetic surgeon—but the patient goes to another practice. Why? Because your surgeon (and your practice) didn’t earn his trust.
The first thing I’d do as a consultant would be to meet everyone in the practice. I’d ask the front of house and back office staff about the level of trust your patients have to see if cosmetics is a viable investment for you. It’ll do you no good to recruit a surgeon if there’s no patient confidence.
Adding a Reconstructive Surgeon
Bringing on a reconstructive surgeon is more straightforward: if the revenue from having one on board exceeds the costs, do it.
Look at the number of referrals you’ve made in the past year. Take the value of those procedures and calculate how much money ‘walked out the door.’ Ask yourself how many patients presented with an issue that wasn’t extreme enough to refer out that you may have referred to your in-house surgeon.
Consider the costs beyond the surgeon’s percentage. Do you have the space, or will you have to expand? You may have to add equipment, support staff, and operating room fees.
Making your Recruit Successful
As your surgical volume grows, make sure that your patients’ experience and quality outcomes grow with it. Customer service is critical for plastics. Surgery can be intimidating for patients and they need access to your staff leading up to the surgery. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for your patients to be able to speak with someone about concerns. You can easily lose patients to pre-surgery jitters if there’s no one to reassure them. And don’t forget:
- Even with a positive cost-benefit analysis, it’s important to recruit someone whose personality fits your practice.
- Set your surgeon up for success with a prepared and full staff.
After you’ve brought on your addition, you’ll want to evaluate the success of your expansion. If it’s paying off, great. If not, determine why.
First, track the leads you send your surgeon and gauge the conversion rate. If a large number of interested patients actually get to him and he doesn’t convert them to performed procedures, the issue could be with how the surgeon handles patients.
But what if you’re making referrals and they never even make it to the surgeon’s office? In that case, the issue is usually office staff. Twenty referrals for surgery won’t generate any revenue if your staff can’t set the appointments. If patients can’t get the required procedure from you, they’ll go elsewhere.