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Purchasing an Established Practice

Planned, slow transition becomes a whirlwind transfer as plans changed

Monica Brown, OD, CO, recalls hearing early in 2013 through the grapevine at local and state meetings that her colleague, Brian Armitage, OD, was thinking about his retirement options. Dr. Brown says that she saw a great opportunity in purchasing his established practice in Jacksonville, Florida, with a large patient base. “Dr. Armitage had a great reputation, and his practice was a well-oiled machine,” she adds.

By May, they were discussing the plans for a practice transition, likely to span over three years as Dr. Armitage cut back his work.
Dr. Brown was working at an ophthalmology office—a great experience, she says, but she was ready to take ownership of her own business. The timeline that they considered worked for her, as well, as Dr. Brown and her husband, Jarad, were in the process of adopting their son, Mason, from Haiti. Yet over the next few months, Dr. Armitage decided to leave the practice sooner, and by that New Year’s Eve, Dr. Brown was signing the paperwork to complete the purchase. She says that she’s thankful to her husband for his support, as he helped her find a loan and negotiate the purchase. It was a whirlwind but in the end it all worked out, Dr. Brown says. “We were able to get settled into this new practice before we adopted Mason from Haiti, and I had been practicing here for 11 months before my son arrived.”

With a sturdy foundation built for the practice, Dr. Brown kept the practice name but updated the logo to add her own personal style. The office was given a facelift, including a remodel of the reception and waiting area. “It feels more like a home than an office,” she says. “We have flowers in the office every day so it smells good, and patients have really responded to it.” Dr. Brown says that she hears several patients each day comment about the transformation. Dr. Brown, as a certified orthoptist, also brought a new specialty to the practice. And without doing any traditional advertising, the well-established practice continued to grow and draw in a new source of patients through referrals from local doctors—including her former employer—and patients. “Many ODs don’t like seeing patients for double vision or misaligned eyes, so I get a lot of colleague and MD referrals for double vision and specialty contact lens fits,” she says. “I get to love my work.”

There was a learning curve for the staff—those who stayed with the practice as well as the new members—who had never experienced this type of therapy care before. “We’ve had to adjust the schedule a few times as the staff learns about services we provide,” Dr. Brown says. “A patient with double vision will need a longer time slot.” Dr. Brown always includes a time for staff education during her regular Wednesday morning staff meetings. “When they learn about these conditions, the staff members who take the phone calls can gauge what patients are coming in for and if they need shorter or longer visits.”

With two full years of practice ownership complete, it’s time for the team to grow. “We’ve had a staff of four plus me and my husband for the last two years, but we’re ready for a fifth,” she says. The new employee will be cross-trained in all areas of the office, which is a goal for all new staff members. “Having at least two people who can fill in anywhere will relieve the headaches for vacation time and illnesses,” Dr. Brown says. She also hopes to add a scribe in the future to make busier days even more efficient.

Dr. Brown says that she continues to enjoy the benefits of practice ownership, especially the flexibility for balancing her professional and personal lives as she and her husband prepare to adopt their son’s sister.

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