Ophthalmologists operating a small practice are looking for better patient relationships and independence.
She outlined her formula for success in solo practice. “Imagine yourself like Han Solo in the Star Wars movies,” she said. Similar to the personality and actions this character displayed in the original trilogy, she recommends:
- Being friendly, adaptable, and action-oriented
- Planning ahead
- Building a squad or team with shared goals
- Recognizing challenges
- Using various resources available to you to help establish your practice
Dr. Nijm suggested that a solo practitioner would ideally have an amicable personality, which would allow them to easily talk with patients and maintain good relationships with staff members.
Other desirable traits would include the ability to adjust to new technology and regulatory requirements. As a business owner, they must possess the willingness to take action when problems arise. Physicians who fit this description also must focus on the concept of planning ahead.
“It takes a lot longer than you may anticipate setting up a solo practice,” Dr. Nijm said.
Before seeing the first patient, physicians need to create a business plan, understand the community they are working in, and be realistic about how long it will take to be accepted on insurance panels and obtain hospital credentials.
Often, there is a lag time between opening a practice and receiving steady reimbursements. Therefore, a major consideration is obtaining the necessary funding ahead of time to purchase equipment, hire staff, and float a functioning practice for anywhere from three to six months.
‘Strike back’ against challenges
Then, just as the cinematic “rogue hero” Han Solo was constantly doing battle with Darth Vader and other villains, solo practitioners will confront their own particular challenges: insurance companies and Medicare, billing and coding—not something physicians should simply leave to their staff, Dr. Nijm emphasized—as well as government compliance requirements and human resources.
Again, like Han Solo, who had help from an assortment of partners as he crisscrossed a galaxy far, far away, solo physicians are leaders who must build a strong and compassionate supporting team, united around a core theme.
“You want to send a message from the beginning that you put the patient first,” Dr. Nijm said. “When you put the patient first, everything else falls into place.”
Resources such as the IRIS registry (Intelligent Research in Sight) can be extremely helpful to solo practitioners, she added, and advised doctors just starting out on their own to spend time interacting with other physicians in the community, which can result not only in a useful business network but lasting friendships.
“I’m confident that if you follow these steps with the goal of providing the best care for our patients, the next big thing will be the return of the solo practice,” Dr. Nijm concluded.
Lisa M. Nijm, MD, JD
P: 630/393-7100; E: [email protected]
This article was adapted from Dr. Nijm’s presentation at the 2018 meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Nijm did not report any relevant financial relationships.