Faced with the sluggish economy, a changing regulatory climate, shifting patient expectations and new forms of competition, today’s optometrists are getting more creative in their approach to both clinical and business matters. Whether it’s improving their diagnostic skills, implementing new technologies in the exam room or office, employing the latest management techniques or raising the level of patient care, forward-thinking ODs are pushing ahead with fresh ideas. They are the focus of our second annual Optometric Business Innovators report, a special collaborative project between Vision Monday and Review of Optometric Business.
Each month for the rest of the year, ROB will present profiles of the honorees in six categories–business management, optical dispensing, digital media, marketing, the patient experience, influencers and contact lenses. This month we honor those doctors recognized for achievement in business management innovation.
JAMES AVERSA, OD, PA
T/A Heights Eye Center
Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
“One can never become complacent in these competitive times. You always have to re-invent yourself as the highway to success is always under construction.”
After five years of working in various group eyecare practices, James Aversa, OD, took the plunge and went into private practice in 1990. Looking back on the decision Aversa says, “there were limitations to working in a group practice and I wanted to control my own destiny.”
Certified in both topical and oral pharmaceuticals as well as Paragon CRT ortho-keratology, today Heights Eye Center concentrates on primary care with a focus on the diagnoses and management of eye disease. “I have invested in the necessary instrumentation to properly diagnose and treat eye disease. The latest instrument acquisition is an OCT which has been an invaluable benefit to the practice. The management of eye disease such as dry eye, glaucoma and macular degeneration has kept the patient volume consistent and is quite rewarding,” he says.
Aversa admits that keeping up with new technology and new instruments “is a win/win for me and the patients. The OCT checks for glaucoma, and while it’s an expensive piece of equipment, it’s a great investment because it’s such a good diagnostic tool.” Another key to the practice’s long-term success has been the ability to stay on top of the technology, e.g. Ortho K and specialty lenses, and “embrace new things like primary care vision therapy, which has helped me stay focused and stretch beyond my comfort zone. That’s how you progress, by taking a chance and seeing what works,” he adds.
However, Aversa believes “the most important piece of equipment I have is my staff. We have been working on the flow of the patient experience, from the time they enter to when they leave. I would like to think that we offer patient centric personalized service which is better than our counterparts. We want them to have a ‘wow’ experience and hopefully they will refer other people.”
“I strive to put in the necessary effort to demonstrate genuine generosity, with the assumption that if my efforts are properly directed and energized, business success will result.”
The economic downturn created an opportunity for Isthmus Eye Care, according to its co-owner and partner Scott Jens, OD, FAAO. “The downturn impacted the discretionary purchases that patients were readily making before, such as lasik and second-pair purchases,” says Jens. With that in mind, Jens used his practice as the “launching pad” for his RevolutionEHR cloud-based software system “which allowed us to cost-effectively manage patient records, prescriptions, and patient qualifications and candidacy for needs-based purchases. This allowed us to focus on helping patients to get their desires met, while helping the practice to maintain growth.” Momentum also is kept by focusing on key practice indicators and using outside consultancies like ODLean to assure smooth patient care and staff workflow. The practice also participates in customer service workshops and is preparing to undergo a “practice blueprint-for-the-future project” with consultancy LeadershipOD.
Isthmus Eye Care has developed a robust Product Sales department, both optical and contact lens, while driving a strong medical practice. “We place one technician between the post-exam and optical to provide better verbal handoffs to complement the information transfer capabilities of RevolutionEHR, and to share key patient information,” Jens says.
“A famous quote from legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes summarizes my management style: ‘You win with people.’”
A sense of loyalty and attention to the patient experience are two cornerstones that have sustained the long-term association George Poulos, OD, has had with LensCrafters beginning in 1988 when he worked as a technician in a LensCrafters while completing his undergraduate education. Since 1996, he has been a LensCrafters subleasing doctor and subsequently added locations in the Cleveland and Columbus areas. Today, Poulos admits he enjoys the mix of seeing patients and managing the operations of the three Ohio-based practices.
“The biggest management challenge when you have multiple locations, is hiring a staff that can deliver a consistent patient experience every day. As leaders in our offices, we must provide an uncompromising vision and hire the right talent to carry out that vision. In addition, I have established leadership expectations for my office managers and associate doctors which creates a culture of accountability.”
Poulos admits that the guiding principle of the practices is centered around accommodating the needs of the patients, and providing convenient appointment availability for all three locations which are open seven days a week. “To make this happen, we must hire selfless people, develop them, and create a culture in the office that is focused on accommodating the needs of our patients. This leads to retention and referrals, which in turn leads to sustained growth.”
The addition of retinal digital imaging six years ago has made a huge improvement in the patient experience allowing the associates to explain their findings and relate eye health to general health issues, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, according to Poulos. “The ability to connect with our patients on a personal level and stay connected over time is the biggest reason we have experienced growth, despite the economic challenges in our area.”
BARRY TANNEN, OD
EyeCare Professionals, PC
Hamilton Square, New Jersey
“Our motto is ‘Advanced Vision Care You Can Trust.’ To us this means providing cutting edge technology in a modern, clean and friendly office.”
As an associate clinical professor of optometry at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, Barry Tannen, OD knows a thing or two about practice management. Tannen encourages his students to avoid the trap of thinking just because they’re ODs, doesn’t mean they can’t have business intelligence as well.
In addition to his one day a week duties at SUNY, he lectures nationally and internationally on learning related vision disorders, strabismus, amblyopia and vision therapy. He has written and co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed optometric publications, including the 1995 book Eye Movement Basics for the Clinician. He is president of EyeCare Professionals, P.C., a private group practice in Hamilton Square, N.J., which he co-founded with Dr. Nicholas Despotidis in 1988. Tannen is also on the faculty at the Southern College of Optometry where he is the program supervisor for the Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation Private Practice Residency at EyeCare Professionals, PC.
The sluggish economic recovery has spurred Tannen and his partners, including Ivan Lee, OD, to shift gears. “For us it’s been a matter of re-evaluating the value of our services, products and care. I’ve always been a strong believer that you should be able to say, “If I were a patient, would I come to this office and would I continue to come?” The practice is also receiving $44,000 in stimulus money as part of the electronic health records incentive program known as the American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
“We emphasize the optometric specialty areas which tend to be perceived as ‘high barrier to entry’ specialties. For us this includes vision therapy, corneal reshaping (and other specialty contact lens fits) and traumatic brain injury. The expertise and management skills required to be successful in these optometric specialty areas allow us to charge commensurate fees.”