LOOKING FOR SOLACE IN A MANAGED CARE WORLD

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IT’S NO SECRET that managed vision care has become one of the major drivers of patient activity over the last few years. In fact, it’s accelerated from accounting for roughly 50% of all optometric practice revenue in 2004 to about 75% now.

Most practitioners feel a spectrum of emotions about managed care—ranging from ambivalence to resignation to resentment. But no one will deny its power to drive patients into practices and keep the vision care process moving.

In a recent survey conducted by First Vision Media Group, when asked to select the single biggest issue confronting optometry right now, nearly 40% of respondents (all of them ODs) pointed to “balancing managed care and private pay revenue streams.”

Everyone knows that doctors don’t like being dictated to. They don’t like being told what they can or cannot charge for professional services, or materials for that matter. They don’t like paperwork or filing claims. But they do like having patients.

And when the biggest employer in a given town has suddenly added a specific managed vision care plan to its benefits package, you can bet the area doctors will scramble to be on the panel, if they’re not already.

For all those ODs who pine for the days when private pay was king, it’s time to give it up. Yes, there are still highly successful ophthalmic practices that don’t depend upon managed care, but their numbers are dwindling. No doubt, that 75% will extend to 90% or more in the years to come.

New generations of ECPs come into the profession each year not knowing anything different, and this provides them with an inherent advantage because there is no emotional baggage to living life with managed care. But for those who came of age in another era, there needs to be something of an attitude adjustment. Managed care can mean lower margins and more “man” hours, but it can also be used to improve the dollars gleaned per patient.

Most every plan allows for a materials upgrade, but in order for this to work, the recommendation must come from the chair (not the dispensary). And it requires that the practitioner not think of it as “selling stuff” so much as providing for a better experience and better deliverables. In the end, although patients want to save a few bucks and look to their benefits to help that happen, they also want the very best they can get, especially if it represents the best in quality of care.

Docs need to put this in perspective: making these recommendations means improving patient lives and improving practice financial health.

e-mail me at fg@visioncareproducts.com

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