Refractive surgeons agree that the LASIK coordinator is one of the most important positions in a refractive surgery practice. In fact, an effective refractive surgery coordinator can be the difference between a thriving refractive practice and a struggling one.


Personality Pays

Finding the "perfect" LASIK coordinator can be difficult, but refractive surgeons have found that personality is the most important characteristic to look for when hiring. "You can teach anyone enough ophthalmology within a couple of weeks to be able to tell a patient about each procedure that you do, but you can never do a personality transplant," says Marguerite McDonald, MD, who is in private practice with Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island in New York.

Richard Lindstrom, MD, agrees. "Previous ophthalmology experience is not necessary. We have new refractive surgery coordinators watch some surgery and watch the flow through the clinic so they know how things work. It's not hard to learn to how to help someone arrange financing and it's not hard to put a patient in the schedule, but it is really hard to develop the kind of a personality that immediately engages anyone in a comfortable discussion," says Dr. Lindstrom, who is in private practice at Minnesota Eye Consultants in Minneapolis.

Obviously, the ideal refractive coordinator should have excellent communication skills because he or she must be able to talk to people of all educational levels and all sophistication levels. "Refractive coordinators have to be very carefully outfitted so that they will feel comfortable with any group. So, they can't dress poor, and they can't dress too rich. Additionally, they should be college graduates, because most LASIK patients are college grads," Dr. McDonald says.

While it may be tempting to move a technician or another office staff member into this position, it may be better to hire from outside the practice. Many successful LASIK coordinators have a background in sales or service. Daniel Durrie, MD, in private practice with Durrie Vision in Overland Park, Kansas, says that his practice typically hires people who have worked in the service industry in the past, because people in the service industry are generally comfortable talking to people of various ages and various backgrounds.


Personal Experience a Plus

According to Dr. Lindstrom, in his experience, "the coordinators that are the best are vivacious, attractive women who have had LASIK. The model would be to find someone who has had refractive surgery, is really pleased with his or her own outcome, and is able to relate to an age population of 20 to 40. They need to be able to look a patient in the eye and honestly say that they are ecstatic with the results of their surgery," Dr. Lindstrom adds.

If the LASIK coordinator has undergone refractive surgery, he or she can tell patients that he or she had the same fears and concerns before undergoing LASIK, which can be very reassuring for patients. Dr. Lindstrom believes that it is also helpful for the surgeon to have undergone LASIK. "I think it's an advantage for the physician to have undergone LASIK. I personally haven't had LASIK, but every one of my partners who is myopic has had it done. I tell patients that I've performed LASIK on several of my partners and my family members, and I think it helps a lot," he says.

While it may be ideal for a LASIK coordinator to have undergone LASIK, Drs. Lindstrom and McDonald agree that it is not imperative. It is crucial, however, for the LASIK coordinator to never wear glasses while at work. "They can wear contacts, but they can't wear glasses. If they wear glasses, all the explaining in the world about why they are not candidates for LASIK is not going to make a difference," Dr. McDonald says.

When looking for a refractive coordinator, age doesn't seem to matter. According to Dr. McDonald, some of the best coordinators in the country are in their 60s, and some of the best are in their 20s. However, Drs. McDonald and Lindstrom note that most outstanding coordinators are women.

"I'm sure there are some great men out there who are successful, but our experience is that most people who are successful in this position are women," Dr. Lindstrom adds.


Conveying Confidence

According to John F. Doane, MD, who is in private practice at Discover Vision Centers in Kansas City, Mo., successful LASIK coordinators must "have confidence in the surgeon's abilities and faith in the surgeon and the surgical team."

Dr. McDonald agrees. "They have to be devoted to you. Their voice has to ring with conviction when they talk about how wonderful you are as a surgeon," she notes.

On the other hand, they must also be realistic and not over-sell surgery. "You need to be able to trust your refractive coordinator. He or she needs to communicate well to patients and not give them expectations that we cannot achieve. Make sure the coordinator has a strong enough personality to come to you if he or she feels that a patient has not had all of his or her questions answered," Dr. Durrie says.

He notes that the coordinator should follow-up with the patient postoperatively to make sure that the office and the procedure have met his or her expectations.


Problem Solving, Closing the Deal

A successful LASIK coordinator will be able to allay patients' fears and overcome any obstacles or objections standing in their way, whether they are financial concerns or scheduling issues. "You want someone who can help patients through the entire process, from the first call through the time of surgery," says John A. Vukich, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

They should be very comfortable and direct when discussing money. "They should be comfortable going over all of the financial situations that arise, and they must have the ability to help in the financing education arena," Dr. Doane adds.


Willing to Travel

According to Dr. McDonald, refractive coordinators should be willing to occasionally travel both locally and to national meetings. "When you are hiring, ask candidates in advance whether they are willing to travel, and don't hire them if they are not," she says.

LASIK coordinators must be educated and up-to-date on the latest advancements in the field. For this reason, they should periodically attend a national ophthalmology meeting or visit one of the laser manufacturers so that they will be able to answer sophisticated questions from patients.

"They should also be willing to travel locally for cross-marketing purposes. For example, they can visit internists' or dentists' offices and offer to display those practices' brochures in your lobby if those practices will display your LASIK brochures in their lobbies," she explains.


Incentive or No?

While some practices offer special financial incentives to LASIK coordinators, others do not. Some practices do not offer incentives to any of the staff members, some only incentivize the LASIK coordinator, and some offer incentives to all of the staff members. All three models appear to have advantages and disadvantages.

"Incentivization works in some practices, but I tried it in New Orleans, and it did not work. Right now, I have the best LASIK coordinator I've ever had, and she is not incentivized at all. However, other surgeons have reported significant increases in patient volume when they started incentivizing," Dr. McDonald says.

Dr. Lindstrom offers incentives to all of his staff members. "Our practice offers profit sharing to our whole group. Incentives always help," he says.

Dr. Durrie's practice sets a target, and if it is met, all staff members are rewarded the same amount. He notes that, while the LASIK coordinator has an important role in achieving the target goal, he does not want the coordinator to feel that he or she has to oversell surgery to meet the goal. "You don't want someone overselling expectations. We can't make people younger, and we always need to educate patients about presbyopia and what will happen down the road," he says.

Additionally, choosing to only offer incentives to the LASIK coordinator can cause discord among the staff members.


Another job responsibility is being able to track leads. "You really can't be organized and track leads unless you are computer literate. In fact, LASIK coordinators have to be a little bit obsessive compulsive about following up leads. If a patient is on the fence about having the procedure, the LASIK coordinator should have a tickle file on his or her computer and should call the patient 3 to 4 weeks later to follow up," Dr. McDonald says.

Ultimately, the LASIK coordinator's job is to be constantly thinking of ways to expand the practice and new ways to internally and externally market the practice. "They need to really enjoy what they are doing. Spend quite a bit of time interviewing for this position. It's one of your most important hires, so take some time doing it. We typically have multiple people in the office interview a potential candidate to make sure that he or she is a good fit," Dr. Durrie adds.