The service delivery process for most optical providers is housekeeping – it’s like driving a car. The trick is to keep your eyes on the road, take note of what’s going on around you and continually make adjustments for optimum performance.
Driving is not about operating a vehicle (although nothing happens without that). Anyone can operate a car if you can entirely disregard what happens outside. But 90 per cent of driving is everything else besides making the car go.
Practice processes are like operating the vehicle. We need to be able to design, maintain and rely on those processes to do their thing while we attend to patients. Because it’s the other stuff that matters to patients, which is where our success lies.
The problem for most optical care providers is complexity – the business of optometry and eye care is incredibly complicated. For each patient, we engage in a multi-stage process, often involving several internal and external specialists, driven by important technical processes, and backed by plenty of administration. The process can spin off into the ditch at almost any point along the way.
The problem for most optical care providers is complexity – the business of optometry and eye care is incredibly complicated
Complexity is multiplied for the practice by processes running concurrently, and on differing time scales, with each process to some degree, varying from the others. No wonder we are tired at the end of the day!
Focus on the Process… or Not
For some practices the process of eye care delivery is not all that well designed, and has really evolved over time rather than being rationally engineered. Add to this a tendency to mix multi-skilling with multi-tasking, and less than precise role definitions for staff, and we have a set of circumstances ripe for problems.
All of this means we must focus intently on the process to prevent disaster, which can have two unintentional consequences.
Lost to the Process
Sometimes the patients can lose first place to the process. Clearly this is not intentional, but the need to control complexity and prevent problems in a complex multi-process system simply can lead to ‘process focus’.
While improvements to the process and patient care can seem like additions to the complexity, if your practice is in this position, change is not optional, its mandatory.
But if we are already flat out like the proverbial lizard trying to control the current care processes, how can we be expected to find the time and energy to develop and add new elements to our system?
A moment of thought will reveal that patients really do not care about the mechanics of service delivery. They are interested in results. They don’t really mind how you get their spectacles made… what matters is things like, “can I see properly?”… “do I look beautiful?” and “are they comfortable?” It’s the things we do outside of the process that add real value. The best optometry and optical businesses are masters of implementation.
No Time for Change
The second consequence of managing complexity is inertia for improvement and change to the practice service delivery. If all of our effort is going into simply maintaining and preventing disorder, it’s unlikely that any significant or meaningful improvement will be achievable. The intention to change simply adds to the complexity and load, and ironically the greater the need for change, the less likely
it is to occur.
Service Delivery is Your Competitive Advantage
Your service delivery and patient’s perception of how they are engaged and treated by the practice is a very important competitive advantage. Most patients want to be a part of your practice. They have probably selected you from several options and are likely to have been recommended by an existing patient. Getting your processes and systems right, and demanding solid processes and systems from suppliers is essential. Developing patient care and ensuring that we have the patient’s “value equation” covered is the heart of your competitive advantage.
Some important aspects to focus on for improvement include communication, product delivery and presentation, product finish and compliance with specifications and standards, and staff technical and product knowledge.
Commit to Change Management
Highly effective change management requires you to first provide opportunities to identify the improvements that can be made. Give yourself and your staff some space to think about this and provide the means of capturing the information. Staff meetings are a vital part of this process.
Anyone who is responsible for change must also have the authority to do what is required, along with the appropriate level of resources, like time and money, if required. There must also be a process of accountability. Following up planned actions and decisions diligently will ensure that the improvements agreed to be essential are carried out.
Give staff who are willing and able to identify and implement improvements the permission and opportunity to get stuck in. Almost all staff will happily help to improve the practice if they are allowed to. Good staff understand that their futures and benefits are tied to the practice as much as the owners. Your staff will be more engaged and less likely to leave. Their motivation and service level will also go up, and your practice might even make more money!
The process of accountability and monitoring of improvement change is not a one-off job. One of the biggest pitfalls of implementation is the tendency to regress to familiar and well-ingrained behaviours. It can take months to imbed a process change in your practice so that it sticks, and everyone doesn’t go back to what they used to do!
The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to optometry practices – who would have thought? If you don’t constantly monitor, review and revise, things will go downhill. Slowly. So you probably won’t notice too much until the KPI’s start to change. This happens in all businesses. If you are too busy to keep an eye on the practice, get someone who can.
Find the Value
Making practice service better is not easy, but it’s not getting better by itself. Take time out to look at your practice processes and systems. Pull them apart and question everything. Try to make them as robust and focussed as possible. Set them up so that they can’t fail, then identify and implement change, and work on the elements that produce real value for patients. Your practice will be much more efficient and more successful.
Mark Overton has science and business qualifications and, for over 30 years, has consulted to or worked with major public hospitals, federal government, small and medium private businesses, medical research institutions, professional associations and small businesses. Mark is the CEO of Ideology Consulting and, on occasion, lectures at universities.