Now that I had chosen my practice location, I needed to figure out the next steps.

The first thing I did was to hire a practice management consultant.  I felt that I could figure most things out on my own using the internet, but I just wanted someone to run things by, so that I didn’t overlook anything.  The last thing I wanted was for a small mistake or omission to snowball into a huge problem.

There are only a handful of practice management consultants out there. Because the startup process is similar for all specialities, you don’t necessarily have to go with an ophthalmology-specific firm.  Of course, I felt it would be prudent to work with a group that had prior experience in ophthalmology.

The AAOE (American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives) has a directory of consultants. In order to be placed on this list, they have to be recommended by AAO members, which would mean that these firms are probably more credible than a random one you would find off Google.

Since most business can be handled through phone, fax, and e-mail these days, I didn’t think it was necessary for my consultant to be in the same geographic area as my practice.  Hence, I ended up choosing a consultant in the east coast despite having to give up physical access to them, unless I wanted to pay for their trip to San Jose.  Having said that, I thought I was going to be able to take care of 90% of the tasks on my own.  I just wanted a second pair of eyes to double check my work and plan, which could all be done remotely.

I ended up going with the first group I interviewed.  I chose to contact this group first because one of the head partners had written a few informative and insightful articles on the AAOE website.  I spoke with this same person over the phone for 1 to 1.5 hours, free of charge.  He went over the services they offered, their philosophy, and their past experiences.

Next, I flew over to meet the group personally.  Fortunately, it was in the same direction as a conference I was already attending.  My day with them lasted 6 hours, meeting with 8 or 9 consultants.  I learned what each member’s duties were, and how they would function to meet my needs.  What I really liked about this group was that each person had a specific specialty area, such as practice financing, space planning, legal, web design, credentialing, human resources, etc.  I wouldn’t be working with just one person, but with a team of consultants.  The way they took me through the day was very streamlined, and I could tell that their work ethic was solid and efficient.

The group was also very flexible in terms of the extent of their services I could utilize. They offered everything from full service, where the group performs every single step of the start-up process, to minimal service, where I would do all the legwork, and they would only be available for consultation on demand.  Senior associates charged $200 per hour, junior associates charged $100-$200 per hour, and staff charged $50-75 per hour. Their total estimated fees were $10,000 to $25,000, depending on how much work I directly put in.  Full service would be about $25,000, and would include all the services mentioned above.

They provided references to previous clients in their information packet, of which most were in ophthalmology.  Make sure to contact the references and get their input.  This company had experience with mostly local practices, but they had also worked with out-of-state practices in the past as well.

So far, I am very satisfied with my consulting firm. Very friendly, professional, and informative.  I have not felt their out-of-state presence to be an obstacle, especially since I am doing most of my own legwork.  My consultants have helped me to smooth out my tasks, making sure that I’m on the right track.

If you have no prior business or practice experience like me, it’s probably a good idea to hire a consultant.  As I have said previously, the last thing you want is to let one stupid form or rule delay your practice from opening by 2 months or more.  You want to make sure that all your I’s are dotted and T’s crossed, and the consultant will make sure you do so.

2017 Update:  Now before you jump out of your chair to hire your consultant, read my follow up posts: Consultants Revisited and Consultants Re-revisited.

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