TIME WELL SPENT Riolo with a young patient
IN THE HOUSE Spectacles West’s lab

The debate over whether ECPs are better off with or without an in-office lab is still going strong. Here’s a firsthand look at both sides of the proverbial in-office-lab coin, as discussed by Larry Riolo, owner, Davis Optical, Rome, NY, and Michael and Kira Connally, owners, Spectacles West, Weatherford, TX.

Larry Riolo has operated Davis Optical in Rome, NY, for many years. Originally in a small space with limited parking, Riolo decided over a decade ago to move his practice into a building that also housed an ophthalmologist (and, eventually, an optometrist). He was also close to the local hospital and many other medical offices, and was fully ADA compliant now. He had more display space, some administrative space, and an area for doing repairs and adjustments, but still not enough space for a full finishing lab. However, Riolo is not unhappy with his decision.

“While I was trained in everything from surfacing to finishing in opticianry school, I had not done much in my own office because of space and time restraints,” Riolo says. “I have consistently used local labs that produce a wide range of products and services. At some point, it may have made more sense, dollar-wise, to put in a lab, but that would require additional staff and training, not to mention additional liability. I am essentially a one-optician office. I can’t produce eyeglasses in one hour, but I can offer just about any product on the market, and I have instead put my efforts into learning about anything that is new, better, more innovative, and can serve my patients’ needs better. My patients understand this and I have a very loyal patient base.”

“Lately I have become less regretful about making this decision,” he continues. “Most of the insurance plans that we accept now require that we use their contract labs. That would leave my own finishing lab, if I had one, virtually out of business. The cost in equipment, time, an additional staffer, and lab consumables, along with the liability when finishing your own eyewear is just not worth it to me. I want to focus my best skills on the dispensing table.”

Kira Connally has substantial optical experience in both corporate and private practice offices, while Mike Connally has an engineering background. They spent years saving and formulating a business plan before opening Spectacles West in Weatherford, TX, in 2012. They have never looked back. Mike handles most of the lab chores and Kira is out front in the dispensing area. Their practice features specialty lenses and many unique high-fashion, and high-technology frames. They do their own in-house finishing for a variety of reasons.

Kira says, “Having a finishing lab offers us the ability to compete with the one-hour chain across the interstate from us. Stock lens jobs are more cost-efficient to run in-house-we can offer better service to people in a bind who have lost or broken glasses, and, most importantly, we can manage quality control. If a lens is slightly off power/axis, we don’t lose money if we kick it back to the lab. We can be objective about quality without thinking about how being picky is going to affect our bottom line. We can also let a person keep their own frame until we get lenses back from the lab, rather than having to take their eyeglasses for two weeks.”

“The downsides of having an on-site lab-if any-are staffing and training, absorbing lab waste from our own mistakes, equipment maintenance/repairs, cost of stock lenses, and lab consumables,” adds Kira.

She sums it up: “The impact of insurance programs using their own contract labs is not an issue for us; we don’t take insurance. If anything, a longer turnaround time for offices using a contract lab gives us an advantage for patients who need something very fast. A person without glasses is more likely to sacrifice in-network benefits for faster service.”

Sharon Leonard is a licensed optician and contact lens practitioner in the Syracuse, NY, area.


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