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One of the things that I love most about optometry is its diversity. If you think about it, our profession is unique in that we can practice in such a wide range of settings. I also believe that we have the tremendous fortune of being able to practice diversity by taking care of our patientsí visual needs as well as taking care of their ophthalmic, medical needs.
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I also agree that optometry has also been a vision driven profession, and we should never lose sight of this portion of our profession. However, my experience has been that one of the fastest growing parts of my practice is serving the patientís medical needs. As a result, I strongly encourage each and every one of you to implement ďa medical modelĒ in your practice.

Why The Medical Model?

 
Most of my medical patients are coming in to see me more than one time per year. Not only does this help to increase my profitability, but it gives me the opportunity to build a faster, stronger and more loyal relationship with these patients versus the eyeglass patient. For me, this was crucial since I had started a practice with no patient base.
 
Another observation that I have noticed is that my pre-appointed medical patients are more likely to be compliant with pre-appointed follow-up care versus those patients pre-appointed for a well vision examination. These patients come to you, knowing that youíre providing care for them that they need. Most of the time, that same type of loyalty is much harder to achieve with patients seeking you out for routine vision care.

Incorporating the Medical Model
 
One of the biggest challenges of incorporating the medical model into a practice is establishing an image as more than someone who prescribes just glasses and contact lenses. In order to integrate ďthe medical modelĒ it is important to properly educate patients on the differences of vision and medical reasons for visits. From my own experience, patients typically are not very well educated on their insurance benefits. Having a well-educated staff to discuss insurance benefits with patients is crucial to the success of implementing the medical model.

The Patientís Perception of the Medical Model
 
Most patients are pleasantly surprised to learn that their optometrist can submit claims medically. Letís face it; most people love to use their insurance benefits. When patients learn that they can utilize both their vision and medical benefits with their optometrist, theyíre thrilled! Patients perceive this as a higher level of service, and are very quick to tell others that their eye doctor can treat medical conditions and file to their insurance.


My Perception of the Medical Model
 
Practicing optometry to its fullest scope has allowed me to service my community to the absolute best of my ability. Patients often comment that Iím the only eye doctor that theyíve ever visited that will submit medical procedures to their insurance. As a result, Iím the first person that they call when they have a red eye. It makes sense to us that patients should call us first for treatment of the eye, but patients donít always see it that way. Often times, the patients choose what doctor to call because of their insurance coverage. As a result, many optometrists leave a lot of opportunity and revenue on the table for pediatricians, primary care doctors, and ophthalmologists simply because they donít accept the patientís insurance.

Practicing the medical model has increased my revenue, increased patient referrals, and most importantly, has increased patient satisfaction. This has been a terrific way for me to differentiate myself in practice, and Iím certain that it can be a great opportunity for each of you.
Starting Strategies

Itís important to code and bill medical visits appropriately when implementing the medical model in your practice. Invest in a coding and billing reference to ensure that youíre coding and billing correctly Ė donít assume that a colleague or an employer is doing it. There are several references available, and Iíve found the American Optometric Associationís coding and billing references to be helpful as well as affordable. Medicare also has a Web site that is a free reference and is updated continuously. - Kelly Kerksick, OD

 
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