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This information is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent a product or service endorsement or recommendation by the American Optometric Association

Doctor Spotlight: Scott Hadden, O.D.

Dr. Scott Hadden

“One of these days I will become a good optician.”  That was one of my favorite quips to my staff when I started practicing as an “associate” (employed) OD with Wal-Mart in 1994.  We had a very lean staff in a new location and at times I was inadvertently left alone to answer phones, pretest and examine patients, hand-write up orders in the pre-BOSS days and adjust and dispense glasses.  It’s amazing to compare those days to today - a wonderfully modern office with 2 exam rooms, 2 pre-test rooms, a Marco RTA 5 retinal thickness analyzer, a Marco idoc anterior segment digital camera system and a Marco TRS-5100 electronic refractor.

Prior to beginning my relationship with Wal-Mart, I had been working with a regional Minnesota optical chain as an independent contractor.  The security of being on Wal-Mart’s payroll as a member of management was very appealing.  Though I had to suffer through an occasional round of CBL’s and be careful to not accept anything of monetary value from reps, I swore that I would never give up my “associate” status and switch to become one of those “independent” doctors at Wal-Mart.  Here in Minnesota, we had for many years one of the largest groups of associate OD’s.  In fact, Minnesota still has a large contingent of associate doctors who are close friends of mine.

From the time my store opened in Bloomington, Minnesota in January 1995, we grew steadily with double digit comp.  I became intimately involved in all aspects of the business and worked closely with vision center managers and district managers.  I could read and analyze a monthly P&L better than most of the managers I worked with.  I took great pride in giving 110% not only to my patients, but also as an employee of Wal-Mart.   I was chosen several times to represent my district at the infamous year-end meetings in Kansas City (those of you who witnessed the Wal-Eyes jamming at 6 am will never forget it I’m sure).

As all colleagues practicing at various Wal-Marts around the country know, we sometimes need to overcome the “discount” mentality of practicing in a Wal-Mart.  In other words, there are some new patients that may have a pre-conceived notion that some level of inferior care is provided when coming to a Wal-Mart Vision Center.  Here in the Twin Cities, we have such a great group of doctors practicing in area Wal-Marts,  I don’t believe we run into that as often as we did years ago.  But one of the funny stories I tell newly affiliated Wal-Mart doctors is a patient I had seen 15 or so years ago and diagnosed a case of epithelial basement membrane disorder.  Though a fairly mild presentation, this patient sought a second opinion – not just from anyone, but he went straight to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  A few weeks later, the patient came back to let me know what happened.  He said the ophthalmologist at Mayo took a multitude of photos, brought in various interns to look and eventually went into a detailed explanation of the corneal disorder.  Finally, at the end of the appointment, the patient told the esteemed Mayo doctors, “How come it took you 4 hours and 8 doctors to tell me what the guy at Wal-Mart told me in 20 minutes?”  I am sure each of you hears what I do oftentimes at the end of a new patient exam, when I ask the question “Is there anything else I can do for you or do you have any questions?” – the response many times is “No, but I sure am far more impressed with you guys at Wal-Mart than the last place I went.” 

Dr. Scott HaddenIn 2005 and 2006, I had what may be termed a mid-life “professional” crisis.  I sat through a multitude of lectures on medical billing.  From John Rumpakis to John McGreal to Wal-Mart’s own Eric Botts, my eyes opened to new technology that will best serve my patients – and grow my practice.  At that point I began to seriously question whether I was practicing optometry the way I really wanted to.  A few colleagues had transitioned into an independent, leaseholder status and seemed happy with their move.

I decided that I really wanted to expand the scope of my care through investing in new technology and that learning how to properly bill and code for this higher level of care was crucial to the success of my practice.  Then, adding in the fact I learned that I could possibly add another Wal-Mart lease closer to my home , I was finally ready to give up my Wal-Mart discount card (only a year short of the lifetime discount too!)

Finally in late summer 2007, after working out the details for almost a year, I made the big switch.  Initially I had a few bumps in the road.  I had a serious bout of pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for nearly a week in early 2008 (although it was a great blessing to have some colleagues step up and cover some of my missed days) – and in 2009 my location was the first Wal-Mart to be COMPLETELY closed for its re-model into a brand-new prototype design store.  We were closed for almost 9 months – but between the support of friends in various area Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs, and the help of Wal-Mart Health & Wellness management, I survived the store’s closure and returned to a (thankfully) thriving practice.

When we re-opened, our patients were thrilled with the new design, amazed at the high level of technology and expressed their thanks for the personalized care we attempt to consistently provide.

Today I really continue to focus on not just patient care, but patient relationships.  My patients know that I am not just there to spin the dials and write a spectacle or contact lens Rx – I truly care about them, their families and their well-being.  Oftentimes you will hear the advice, “Treat patients like family.”  The one I like better is: “Friends welcome anytime, family by appointment only.   Appointments available second Tuesday of every week.”    
My advice to newly affiliated doctors with Wal-Mart is simple – remember you are not alone in your business.  Utilize other Wal-Mart doctors in your area, learn what they have done to be successful, network with them in group meetings.  They are not your competition - when you have successful Wal-Mart OD’s in your area, it just builds a better reputation for all of us.  Log on to walmartod.com and contribute to discussions and attend any Health & Wellness conference that you can.  I have never failed to learn valuable lessons from my colleagues from around the country at these meetings.

At times, you will hear about an anti-corporate or anti-Wal-Mart bias from other OD’s.  Don’t let that affect you.  I recently met a teacher who told me her son was applying to optometry schools.  She told me that he was advised by two private practice optometrists to work for Wal-Mart after graduating because of the tremendous opportunity there, and then decide what to do long term.  I believe this bias from private practice is beginning to fade.  I also have some close friends who have executive positions at Fortune 500 companies.  Their perception is that obtaining a lease within a Wal-Mart must be very difficult to obtain, because there has to be a lot of competition for such a golden opportunity and that anyone who would pass on such an opportunity must be crazy.   Why, they ask, wouldn’t someone want to work with Wal-Mart.

Now, that is a good question!