Sharing From Our Abundance

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. It’s that special opportunity for us to count our many blessings, to give thanks for our families, for our homes, and for the many opportunities we enjoy. It is also a particularly meaningful time for us to share our abundance with those in need.

Our practice has participated in many charitable holiday endeavors over the years. Each of them has been uniquely rewarding and left us wishing that we could have done more. We have volunteered our services to clergy, to visiting missionaries, and to many others in need. The gift of vision care is highly valued and can be a difference maker. After all, vision is our primary sense, and an efficient visual system is a key for reaching one’s potential.

Surely, our practice is not unique in its charitable outreach. In fact, optometry stands tall in the charitable arena. Many doctors share their time, resources, and services in their communities.

I recently became aware of a very cool charitable idea which would allow patients to share in the spirit of giving. I am not sure who to credit with the idea, but I am sure the author would be happy for me to share it here. It basically works like this: Following any new dispensing during the holiday season, patients are asked to draw a coupon out of a jar. The jar is filled with coupons of different values and a donation is made to the local food bank for the amount drawn. In this fun and rewarding way, patients are included in the charitable effort.

Everyone benefits from such a program: Doctors are able to share and patients feel the connection between the practice and the community. As we all know, a charitable spirit is both rewarding and contagious. I am certain that patients will welcome the opportunity to feel a part of such an effort, and perhaps, be inspired to do even more.

As I see it, the holidays give us the perfect opportunity to share from our abundance. Whether we share our services directly or share in concert with our patients, there is no higher calling. We have the opportunity to improve both visual welfare and quality of life. Let’s challenge ourselves to think of new and innovative ways to impact the communities in which we serve.

eCommerce as an Extension of Your Practice

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dr. Mary Anne MurphyGen X, Gen Y, Millennials: Are you tired of all the stereotyping and artificial grouping? Do you understand these groups? Who came up with these groups and who defines them? Do you know where you fit in? Do you fit in anywhere? Do you truly identify with any of them?

If you’re anything like me, the real question is, “Does any of this have any impact on my everyday life?”

As I have so graciously entered my 40s, I have reached the conclusion that while I may be considered Gen X, I truly do identify with many characteristics in each of these groups. I embrace technology (Gen Y), I live a digital life (Millennial), I expect excellent customer service and enjoy forming relationships with people I trust (Gen X). If you asked me which of these was the most important in my day to day life, I would have a hard time selecting just one. I expect that many of my optometric colleagues feel the same way. I expect that many of my staff and my patients also feel the same way.

All of these components fit together in a way that allows us to live in a way we find enjoyable, efficient, and easy. Most of the time I don’t feel like I am making conscious decisions about how I am doing something, but rather why. I bring this up because I believe our patients feel the same way about how they purchase contact lenses.

Case in point when it comes to contact lens eCommerce. If a patient chooses to purchase their contact lenses online, do they do it because they do NOT value the excellent customer service and relationships they enjoy with your office, or do they do it because it is convenient and makes their lives easier?

Would it be easier for them if they had to call and request a written copy of their contact lens prescription, which they had to pick up in person, or would it be easier for them to log in to their patient portal and extract an electronic copy at any time? Which of these situations, which I can control, will result in a happier patient? I believe the second scenario, providing patients their medical information at their fingertips, will soon be among the most basic expectations that a patient has of our offices.

Do I worry about the financial impact of such activities on my practice? I would be silly if I didn’t. However, I have learned that for those patients whom you make this process available, they become your best advocates. A patient that purchases contact lenses online is also the patient that tends to embrace technology, be Internet savvy and be active on some social media platform. These patients, after a good (or bad) experience are likely to tell their network about their experience with your office.

This is a perfect opportunity to use the services that you provide in your office as a way to differentiate yourself from other providers and an excellent way to build your brand. Practices that offer the opportunity for their patients, through links on their OWN website, a method for purchasing contact lenses online, build yet another avenue that patients can use to purchase materials at any time of day.

Four years ago, in our practice, when patients did not have this choice, we had many outside contact lens prescription requests. We decided to embrace the opportunity of eCommerce, tell patients about it when they were in the office, and initiate reinforcing communication with them often throughout the year to remind them of this benefit. In the past four years, we have seen a sharp decline in contact lens prescription verifications and a steady increase in patients shopping online. We know this because they are doing it through our Website and we receive compensation when the lenses are delivered to our office.

As a small practice, we will never have the funds to compete on an advertising level with some of the larger outlets, so we have decided to partner with those vendors that keep us in the loop, keeping us engaged in the purchasing lifecycle of our patients, reinforcing the importance of our care and directing them back to our office when care is due.

Each day we are faced with choices about how to best provide care for our patients. I believe that care extends far beyond what we do in the office on the day of the exam. Giving our patients options and access is a reality. We expect this in our own lives. We engage in conversation that acknowledges the existence of other eCommerce entities. We discuss the reasons why choosing to support the vendors we recommend is in their (and our) best interest.

Ignoring the reality will not make eCommerce go away. It is here to stay, my friends, and you have the choice to go along for the ride or stand and watch as others enjoy the thrill.

I say ride. It’s exhilarating. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Avoiding Disruption

Monday, November 16, 2015

If you have any question as to how fast the eye care industry is changing, just read the headlines. In just the past few weeks: CVS Pharmacy made the decision to add eye care to its healthcare offering, and has begun a five store pilot; Essilor announced the purchase of the PERC Alliance Group; and Luxottica announced an agreement to put LensCrafters in 500 Macy’s stores.

Holy moly! As an independent eye care professional (ECP), we can’t help but feel a bit uneasy about all this.

New players, new teams and new allies are the order of the day. Combine that with the profit-centric motivation of ever-increasing private equity investment, and you have the potential for industry disruption.

How is it possible for the independent ECP to chart a course through such an ever-changing landscape? In the words of that great philosopher Dr. Seuss, “Sometimes the questions are complicated; the answers are simple.” At the end of the day, we must understand our patients and remember that it always comes down to providing excellent patient care, delivering responsive customer service, and creating high-perceived value.

Professional optometry has grown and prospered because of our excellence in patient care. We are recognized for our skill and expertise and for outstanding patient outcomes. Access has meant opportunity to provide service and we have delivered. However, in this changing industry, we must be careful not to take patient perceptions for granted.

The ploy of the disruptor is to attack the value proposition of the incumbent. In our case, we need to aggressively counter “low price, good enough” messaging. We know our patients deserve far more than a minimalist offering and we must make an ongoing commitment to presenting the facts.

And, finally, we find ourselves in an industry with many alternative practice venues. I believe one of the real secrets to long-term success is to help make sure that doctors can make independent choices on behalf of their patients regardless of practice venue. If we can ensure high professional standards across the board, everyone benefits.

As I see it, change is all around us and will continue. It is critical for the independent ECP to understand their patients and that they continue to work hard to keep their message front of mind. If we are prepared to aggressively combat any disruptive force which may seek to devalue our offering, and if we press for professional autonomy for all doctors, then all boats rise. All patients deserve the best we have to offer.