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Today's Practice | Apr 2010

BONUS FEATURE: Incorporating Nonophthalmic Specialties Into Your Practice

A multidisciplinary medical center can offer a variety of services for a specific patient population.

Irecently moved my practice from a small space (320 m2) to a much larger one (2,500 m2). It was apparent to me that a change was needed when my old examination rooms began to overflow with equipment and patient flow started to jam. My patients, surgeons, and staff were frustrated with the cramped quarters.

When I purchased the new space now called Medipolis, in Antwerp, Belgium, I initially thought that I would appropriate 600 m2 for my ophthalmology practice and rent the remaining space. My vision for the new space evolved as I talked with colleagues and nonophthalmic doctors, and I decided to open a medical center. At first, I thought I would rent space to doctors from other medical fields. What would I gain from incorporating, for example, a gynecologist or an orthopedist into my practice, and what would he gain from me? The reality is that we would gain nothing from each other because we are not working together and our fields do not complement one another.

Rather than create a medical center that houses unrelated medical fields, I decided to incorporate many services that are similar to ophthalmology and target similar patient populations. For example, dentists are similar to ophthalmologists in that they do not treat sick patients. Our patients may experience pain or discomfort, but they are generally not ill. Instead, they want a brighter smile or improved vision.

Building on the theme of wellness and quality of life, I incorporated a dentist into my practice as well as an aesthetic department, which includes a plastic surgeon, an antiaging doctor, and a microsurgical hair implant clinic. The practice also has an optical shop, a pharmacy, an ambulatory surgery center, an anesthesiology center, and a hearing aid clinic. Patients with cataracts often also have hearing problems. Patients who come in for hair implants or a hearing aid may also be good candidates for refractive surgery.

With an in-house optical shop and pharmacy, our patients can fulfill a variety of needs at a single medical center in one visit. Additionally, the layout of our center provides patients with a comfortable, stress-free experience. We have four waiting rooms. When one is full, patients are guided into another waiting area where they can relax, enjoy comfortable seating, watch flatscreen TVs, access wireless Internet, or read magazines. In an effort to educate our patients, we display information in our waiting rooms about the services offered at Medipolis.

A multidisciplinary center is a cost-effective venture. Our staff of one general manager, two office managers, four receptionists, and two patient coordinators is responsible for all of the medical departments. In other words, each medical department does not have to hire its own personnel. Similarly, telephones and other administrative equipment (eg, fax machines, copiers, computers) are shared.

Incorporating nonophthalmic specialties into your practice also creates an experience of convenience for your patients. It is common that a patient who is visiting me will have a dentist appointment 50 minutes later. The patient can fill prescriptions and visit the optical shop on his way out. This kind of convenience and service creates a global experience for our patients; when they go home they feel that they were treated as a human being, not a number.

Before starting such a project, it is important to create a business plan. Writing down guidelines for your practice focuses your mind so that you can determine the practice's needs and identify future growth plans. The key to success is to find other specialists who share similar mindsets and attitudes. Opening a multipractice medical center is a long-term commitment; if you are in constant conflict with your partners about organization, planning, or providing the best quality care to patients, you will find yourself in a problematic situation. In my experience, it is of utmost importance to hire a general manager to take care of all aspects of the business.

Erik L. Mertens, MD, FEBOphth, is Medical Director of Medipolis, Antwerp, Belgium, and Medical Director of FYEO Medical, Eersel, Netherlands. Dr. Mertens is the Chief Medical Editor of CRST Europe. He states that he has no financial interest in the material presented in this article. Dr. Mertens may be reached at tel: +32 3 828 29 49; e-mail: e.mertens@medipolis.be.