TAKING CHARGE

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The main players are only 20 miles from each other, but what makes the difference for us is execution and infrastructure.

The top-northern half of New Jersey is home to a microcosm of dispensary management companies: Medical Eyeglass Center, Inc. (Westfield), Vision Associates (Warren Township) and Partners in Vision (Edison). These companies take control of your practice so you don’t have to—especially when it comes to fighting shrinking insurance reimbursements, increased cost of goods and the commoditization of the industry.

Rob Katz, CEO of Medical Eyeglass Center, estimates that up to 90% of dispensaries are not operating at a profit. This is where these practice management firms leverage their buying power and their experience translating key performance indicators (KPIs) to build margins for the dispensaries they manage. These firms have similarities, as Joseph Casorio CEO of Vision Associates pointed out: “We have all come out of the same mold, being so close to each other.” But there are some key differences in these three successful management models.

Contract Basics
While each contract is a private transaction with the specific owner, all of these firms have one-to-two year auto-renewing contracts with built-in exit clauses for both parties. During the term of the contract, the firms will handle all aspects of staffing, billing and inventory management. All three firms indicated that practices nearly always stay with them for the long haul. The practice maintains ownership of the dispensary through the entire term. They also typically have their own central laboratory or contracted lab to supply lenses.

The partnership is designed to create a percentage of profit for both the management firm and the dispensary. Often included in the contract are dispensary designs and updates. Upon entering one of these quality dispensaries, a patient may not be made aware of the presence of a separate management firm existing within the practice.

Each of them will also implement their own point-of-sale and management software, which play major roles in transforming the practice. Monitoring the KPIs of the practice enables the management teams to make adjustments where necessary. Data-driven management also creates better employee interaction by eliminating subjective management tactics. Despite some stylistic nuances, these seem to be the fundamentals with each of the three companies.

Medical Eye Centers
Approaching its 40th year in practice management, Medical Eye Centers has been in this business the longest. The company has more than 80 ophthalmology dispensaries in 22 states—with no central system to keep track of varying insurance plans and regulations. “There is not one single resource you can go to for insurance questions, so we have an experienced team that researches each company and each plan within the demographic,” explained Katz. He also believes that onboarding executives directly from the ophthalmology industry gives them a unique advantage over his competition.

In terms of how two business entities work together in one space, Katz explained Medical Eye Centers’ priority: “We understand that it is always the practice reputation on the line with every transaction, so every decision we make is with that in mind.”

It’s the practice reputation on the line 
with every transaction, so every decision we make is with that in mind.

—Rob Katz

Vision Associates
With nearly 150 ophthalmology and optometry locations, Vision Associates is one of the fastest-growing practice management firms. “The main players are only 20 miles from each other, but what makes the difference for us is execution and infrastructure,” said CEO Casorio. He described a behind-the-scenes look at the corporate office, for which there is help for dispensers’ daily needs. Opticians have someone they can speak to at the corporate office or the laboratory when needed.

The office managers receive formal optical management training as well as tools for success. Casorio further explained that he tries to keep only six to 10 offices under each regional manager so that they may remain in close contact with each location.

Partners in Vision
Since its origins in 1999, Partners in Vision has partnered with more than 100 ophthalmology locations, becoming a respected brand in eyecare. Judd Sky, CEO and founder, began his career as an optician. He said that what makes Partners in Vision different from its neighboring competition is “patient education on the products which best fit their visual needs, not just selling.” His perspective as a former optician gives him a special affinity for the dispensary, which is product-centric and should be treated as an integral piece. “We try to touch every part of the practice; we don’t want the dispensary to be a gift shop in the corner,” Sky said.

His holistic approach is also seen in the company’s training method, which extends beyond the dispensary to educational models for the practice’s entire staff. Sky and his partners believe that keeping 
all employees engaged with the 
latest frame and lens products is key to fully integrating the dispensary into the practice.
Once you determine which firm’s approach is best for your individual business, ask for a free consultation and analysis of your office. A consultant will then determine if your office is potentially a good fit for their program. The qualification process ensures the success of both parties.

Mark Clark, ABOC, is founder of iProfit Group, a healthcare investment consulting firm.

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