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We Doubt You’ve Seen a Professional Referral Network Like the One This Texas Practice Has Put Together

MDs, ODs, physical and occupational therapists, rehab facilities, athletes and more send patients their way.

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Bellaire Family Eye Care’s eye doctors (from left): Marcia Moore, OD; Aamena Kazmi, OD; founder Ann Voss, OD; and Ashley Tucker, OD.
Bellaire Family Eye Care’s eye doctors (from left): Marcia Moore, OD; Aamena Kazmi, OD; founder Ann Voss, OD; and Ashley Tucker, OD.

DR. ANN VOSS founded Bellaire Family Eye Care in Bellaire, TX, in 1999. A neuro-developmental, therapeutic OD who treats patients with a range of vision challenges, she is joined at the practice by Drs. Marcia Moore, Ashley Tucker and Aamena Kazmi, whose combined specialties support the wide array of services Bellaire offers, including myopia management, neuro-rehabilitation, specialty contacts, sports vision training and dry eye management. Through these services, the practice has developed a vast professional referral network that helps it see nearly 1,500 new patients every year.

THE IDEA

Early in her career, Voss began developing a vision therapy and pediatric specialty within her general practice. Initially it grew from personal referrals, as well as school talks and presentations. But about five years in, after Voss and her team created a report on their exam/testing and began sharing it with patients’ pediatricians and other healthcare providers including speech, occupational and physical therapists, professional referrals really took off. “That helped spread the word — what we were up to and how we could help,” recalls Voss.

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THE EXECUTION

On the therapy/pediatric side, referrals come from MDs, ODs and therapists, many of whom first made contact when they received one of the practice’s reports, as well as from participants in group therapy practices where Voss and Moore make presentations. Tucker has worked hard to cultivate referrals to the office’s specialty contacts division — the Contact Lens Institute of Houston — among corneal specialist MDs and ODs. Patients are also referred to Bellaire’s neuro-rehabilitation service by neuro-ophthalmologists, neurologists, concussion specialists, rehab facilities and others.

Says Voss, “The key is staying in communication with the referral source. It takes time and attention and I hope to keep getting better at it… Half the time patients just call in and we have to work at figuring out how they made it to us so we can communicate with the source.” At Xtreme Vision, the practice’s sports vision training center, athletes themselves are the main source of referrals. “We’ve strived with coaches, but it’s been a struggle,” says Voss. “We have had open ‘gym days’ to bring athletes in for testing. Always a big hit.” Voss says all of Bellaire’s specialty services receive referrals, including its newest, the dry eye management operation overseen by Kazmi.

Voss estimates 85% of referred patients are from within a 35-mile radius of Bellaire in the greater Houston area, with the remainder traveling 35-100 miles. “People will travel if they think you can help them.”

The practice has learned a number of lessons, including the importance of setting aside appointment slots to get professionally referred patients in sooner, working to communicate effectively with referral sources — “always a work in progress” — and training the front desk to manage such patients differently; e.g., not recalling them as a routine patient if they’re an OD referral.

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THE REWARDS

Professional referrals create a feeling of being part of a collective healthcare community, Voss says. “It’s a sign of trust and mutual respect. Any referral is fantastic. The patient arrives optimistic that they’re at the right place. Bottom line is to always stay focused on serving the patient. The business side will take care of itself.”

She also enjoys having to dig in deeper to tackle complex visual and ocular challenges, and developing trusted professional relationships along the way.

OMD referral relationships are definitely reciprocal, Voss says, as are many of the OT and PT referrals. But at the end of the day, the patient’s well-being is the ultimate incentive. “We’re all just trying to help our patients find the best solutions. When you do that, it’ll always come back to you. You can’t be afraid to lose a patient. If your focus is on what’s best for the patient, you’ll never go wrong.”

Do It Yourself: Develop a Strong Professional Referral Network

  • SET GOALS. “Get clear about what you wish to uniquely offer patients/referral sources,” says Voss.
  • BE PROACTIVE. “Identify potential referral sources and reach out to them. A visit to their office is best!”
  • NEVER STOP LEARNING. She urges ODs to get all the education you can to really know your specialty — “and keep getting it.”
  • SPREAD THE WORD. Internally market your specialty to current patients. “The more you’re known for something unique, the better.”
  • KEEP THE FLAME ALIVE. “Love your specialty,” says Voss.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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