Karen Fortman, OD, says that she aspired to work at Primary EyeCare Associates even before she graduated from The Ohio State College of Optometry. “I was born and raised in Fort Loramie, and this is the practice that I went to as a young child,” she explains. “I take care of the vision and eye health of my family and friends. I really enjoy that aspect of giving back to a community that has given so much to me and my family.”
Dr. Fortman’s current practice partner Jeff Ahrns, OD, opened the Fort Loramie satellite office location in 1982. Primary EyeCare Associates, originally founded in 1932, has grown to five locations in Ohio with eight doctors and 52 staff members. Dr. Fortman worked in the practice during optometry school, joined the team as an OD in 1994 and became a partner in 2000. As this satellite office grew, the Fort Loramie office relocated for the first time in the early ‘90s.
Business has continued to boom, warranting another move that was completed in January. “The most significant reason was that we needed more space for pretesting and equipment because we were servicing our patients out of just one exam lane,” Dr. Fortman says. “The tipping point was when we couldn’t see more patients per day without a second exam room and the ability to delegate pretesting.” Their office was 1,400 square feet, but nearly a third of the space was a shared reception area with a dentist in the building. A new space would allow for a larger, updated optical as well as an improved reception and check-out area for patients. Positive feedback from colleagues at optometric conferences inspired her to move forward, as well, and a larger space would allow the doctors to add vision therapy services into the Fort Laramie location, previously only been offered at the main office in Sidney.
The formal search for a new office space began in January 2015, and Dr. Fortman had an ideal spot in mind. She recalls driving by the building every day, which is located at the same intersection of the junior- and senior-high schools where her children go to school. At 12,000 square feet, there was great potential for their own office with great visibility and ample parking, as well as income property opportunities. By April 2015, they had finalized the purchase.
Dr. Fortman, Dr. Ahrns and Dr. Fortman’s husband, Jim Fortman, led the project, bringing experience from a 2004 new office project in the Sidney office. “We were able to evaluate what we did in that space and mimic what we liked about it here in Fort Loramie,” Dr. Fortman says. Dr. Fortman says that her husband and Dr. Ahrns brought their construction experience to the project, so while they hired a contractor to help design the build out, the three of them remained very involved. Dr. Fortman, her husband and children did most of demolition needed themselves, removing carpet, one wall and the drop ceiling during the summer of 2015, just as their first tenants moved in, a new fitness facility.
To customize their blank slate, they took a nine-hour drive to the Eye Designs studio in Philadelphia to visit the showroom and brainstorm ideas on optical displays, paint colors, flooring and lighting, Dr. Fortman says. They made many decisions that day and put the final touches on their design when they returned. “We put our own twist on it.”
The process for permits began that September, and construction was completed in January. Dr. Fortman says that she greatly appreciates the role her husband played in making the vision for this new office space a reality, adding that he was on-site every day even after working until at least 1 a.m. on the second shift at a local engine-building plant. “Having Jim there reduced some costs and gave me the peace of mind that he was looking out for our best interest,” she says. “His attention to detail was such an asset to the practice.” Together, they insulated walls and completed painting for the office.
One set of existing exam lane equipment was moved to the new space, and they invested in instrumentation for a second exam room. There’s also a designated space for optomap technology and a new soft-puff tonometer. Dr. Fortman is looking forward to networking the automated instrumentation to the practice management system to eliminate data entry. For now, the Fort Loramie office will continue to have one doctor per day but now that doctor can work out of two exam rooms instead of one. “We have four exam lanes with two equipped, but we’re banking on more growth and preparing for the next phase to add a second doctor,” she says.
More Space for a Personalized Experience
A new, larger office for the Fort Loramie location of Primary EyeCare Associates gave Dr. Karen Fortman the opportunity to create a new modern look and feel, but patients can also experience the benefits of the move in other ways through further personalization of the patient experience. “We now have room for a chairside assistant in the exam room to scribe for the doctor, allowing for more efficient doctor time that frees us to take care of patients instead of collect data,” Dr. Fortman says.
They’re also beginning the process of cross-training, which Dr. Fortman describes as the future of the office procedures. The goal is that all eight assistants feel comfortable throughout the office. After pretesting, “they can sit in on an exam and hear the patients’ needs and then be the optician when they get to the optical.” Dr. Fortman says that during flu season the method already proved to be effective. “We had some employees with unexpected absences, and we’ve been able to make it work.”