As the Founding Partner of Brookside Optometric Group and clinical professor at UC Berkeley School of Optometry for 40 years, the story of my practice and teaching begins with a commitment to the art of optometry.
I opened the practice 40 years ago and within six months of opening, the practice went viral due to my philosophy, brand, and goals. The backlog of patients has remained four to six weeks for 38 years. John Iacopi, CPA created a completely new and innovative business model designed to give my former optometry students a direct pathway to partnership.
In this business model known as Sharing Overhead Partnership, there was no capital investment of buying a practice, renting office space, paying for tenant improvements, or paying for an inventory of frames, contacts, tools, and equipment. Since my backlog was several months, patients were directed to the new doctors so that they would have a base of patients and income. I’m grateful to my former students who joined the practice and contributed to our rapid growth.
We went on to merge several successful practices in Stockton, and Brookside has become one of the largest optometric group practices in a single location. This successful business-practice model is now used in many practices across the United States. The innovative model, teaching the art of optometry, and my research all contributed toward being awarded the sixth full Clinical Professorship in the optometry school’s history.
What was the philosophy and brand that contributed to the rapid growth and viral explosion when I began the practice? My Masters in Public Health focused on consumers and the health care system. I researched all the complaints and created a brand and philosophy to address those consumer complaints, beginning with a commitment to getting to know our patients as people.
From the start, I committed to spending one hour with every single patient. I take time to address their eye health and vision needs, and I also take time to get to know my patients personally: about their work, their families, their interests and hobbies. I study this information for several hours each day, see patients on time, and follow up with every patient who receives glasses to make sure the eyewear meets their needs.
As I emphasize to visiting students, it is critical to listen to each patient, convey empathy, and remember the characteristics that make them significant. Every student applying to the health care profession wants to help people. The lives of people today are more complicated and complex than ever, but today the time we have to get to know each patient is more limited thanks to our advancing technology.
By taking a little time to get to know each patient as a person, we establish trust. Trust is the most important value of the relationship, and trust leads to patient loyalty, referral, and respect—this is the art of optometry. My visiting students and visiting doctors tell me that I can make more money by seeing more patients in one hour. “Never underestimate patients’ perception,” I respond. I do not want to hear my patients say, “He’s too busy now and he does not care like before.” My philosophy and brand is that I care about my patients as people, and being consistent through the years validates my commitment and sincerity to my patients.
This philosophy of trust and patient connection has allowed me to grow professionally and personally. My students today have all grown up with technology and are experts in technology. But the disadvantage to technology is that our iPhones and iPads do not have human feelings; only humans have feelings. In our polarized culture, the best way to make the world a better place is by working together to combine the old and the new. Using social media to connect with patients is only half the equation; the other half is mastering the art of optometry to establish loyalty, trust, and retain patients.
Just as teaching is mutually beneficial for the teacher and the students, my work conveying the art of optometry at UC Berkeley and practicing the art of optometry at Brookside Optometric Group has been an incredible journey of learning and growing in a world where personal connection is slowly being reduced.