These groups are offering practitioners purchasing discounts, practice management advice and marketing assistance.
Responding to a challenging environment and the survival
needs of private optometrists, eye care practitioner alliances have evolved
into more than just buying groups. Their services have expanded to include
practice-building education and other support tailored to the private
“The eye care practitioner (ECP) alliance is one
way for independents to function like a chain while maintaining independent
ownership,” Jerome Legerton, OD, MS, MBA, FAAO, a Primary Care
Optometry News Editorial Board member, told PCON.
“Historically, optometrists have been rugged
individualists,” Dr. Legerton said. “Where two or three optometrists
gather together, you’ll have 17 different opinions. And people who are
investors and entrepreneurs love to spot a fragmented industry.
“The mid-1980s was perfect for an entity like
LensCrafters to come in,” Dr. Legerton continued. “They said,
‘We’ll buy better, we’ll concentrate on service and we’ll
articulate that message in about an hour – and we’ll beat [private
practices],’” he said.
“For example, a 1,500-outlet chain can do all kinds
of aggregate buying and selling, but 1,500 independents can’t do that
because they’re fragmented,” he said.
“So, today, alliances have taught optometrists the
necessity of going with the flow,” Dr. Legerton said. The strategy is
antifragmentation, he added.
Most alliances started out in the 1980s and 1990s as
buying groups, loose organizations of independent optometrists who banded
together to get volume pricing, Dr. Legerton said. Today, they have evolved to
offer greater benefits, including streamlining and empowering practices by
offering extra services such as practice development, marketing support, member
networking opportunities, social media guidance, staff education and annual
C&E Vision, Vision West
Brad J. Shapiro principal of C&E Vision and Vision
West, told PCON, “We have recently introduced a number of new services:
frequent peer-to-peer meetings, educational seminars on how to convert to a
medically based practice, social media webinars and online resource center, and
billing and coding seminars, to name a few.
“For business-related services, we’ve also
partnered with Care Credit to provide the best pricing and added various
vendors that offer customized practice websites, online marketing solutions,
website design services, recall services, credentialing services and human
resource advisory services, which helps practices hire better,” he said.
C&E offers programs by which members can review
their optical purchases and also review other members’ purchases to stay
on top of market trends, Mr. Shapiro said.
Vision West was purchased by the principals of C&E
Vision a number of years ago, according to Mr. Shapiro. Vision West continues
to operate as a separate company under separate management, but synergies
between the two are created whenever possible, he said.
C&E Vision and Vision West were founded in the early
1980s and collectively have more than 8,000 members.
“IDOC members receive premier business education
for ODs and staff through IDOC University as well as significant discounts and
rebates from more than 60 vendor programs, ” Mark Feder, OD, president and
chief executive officer of Independent Doctors of Optometric Care (IDOC), told
IDOC hosts an annual business conference, regional
educational conferences and multiple peer-to-peer “best practices
meetings” throughout the country, Dr. Feder said. Membership is renewed
annually, and dues are equal for all practices, he said.
IDOC was founded in 1999 and currently has about 1,275
members in 42 states.
OD Excellence, as an alliance, offers services based on
two focuses, medical management and qualified business management, which is
designed to raise practitioners’ top lines, according to Jerry Lieblein,
OD, CEO of ODX.
“The average optometrist leaves thousands of
dollars, maybe more than $100,000, on the table in improper coding and billing
alone,” he told PCON. “With our services, we could actually increase
their top line without them having to add one new patient. That’s a
Not every optometrist graduates from optometry school
and knows how to run a business, Dr. Lieblein said.
ODX reaches out to optometry students so they may have a
head start on understanding the business side of optometry.
“We have a separate division for student
membership, and we’re involved with all the states and all the
schools,” Dr. Lieblein said. “We help students upon graduation, and
we don’t charge them anything until they graduate. Our philosophy is to
help optometry become better.”
ODX was founded in 2006 and is approaching 700 members
in the U.S. and Canada.
Prima Eye Group
“Prima Eye Group is continuously developing new
management tools,” Neil Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, co-founder, president and
chief operating officer of Prima, told PCON. “For instance, we’re
currently working with two exciting new products. We’ve just incorporated
marketing programs designed by David Ziegler, OD, which consist of personalized
recall cards, targeted direct mail pieces and custom printed brochures about
eye wear selections.
“And we’re developing our own Practice Metric
Benchmarking system in conjunction with a major software developer. This system
should be available to members this summer,” he said.
Prima Eye Group opened for business in November 2011 and
has since accumulated 135 individual members at 85 offices in 30 states.
Vision Source’s senior vice president of strategic
planning, Bobby Christensen, OD,
told PCON, “There are many big, positive changes
in the works at Vision Source. New service positions have been added to help
with staff education and Vision Source representative management and growth. We
have expanded the marketing group, which is providing expertise in social media
and branding. Also, district managers are being added to help members and
administrators at the grassroots level.”
Vision Source was founded in 1991 and constitutes a
membership of more than 2,400 offices, including more than 5,000 ODs, located
in all 50 states and parts of Canada.
The future of ECP Alliances
“Eye care practitioner alliances are here to
stay,” Dr. Legerton said. “The advantages chains and corporations
have over private practice are here to stay. The number one external weakness
for private independents is the inability to articulate who they are to the
public, and the services ECP alliances provide help counter-balance this.”
ECP alliances will only grow larger and more
influential, he said.
The alliances agree.
“ECP alliances are playing a major role in the
revitalization of private optometry,” Dr. Christensen said. “In order
for eye care practitioners to survive and thrive, alliances must provide
significantly more services and support than traditional buying groups. A small
business needs to network and share resources with others to be able to
compete. In addition, providing a recognizable brand for private practices is a
boon for intrastate and local referrals. Patients are brand conscious and will
seek the brand when they move to a new location.”
“Doctors face challenges every day with managed
care, marketing, staff management, purchasing power and strategic
leadership,” Dr. Gailmard said. “Doctor alliance groups represent an
excellent resource to bring professional management skills to the independent
eye care practice. We believe we will see a dramatic increase in interest among
private practice ODs in the business of eye care over the next 5 years.”
“Buying groups were prominent in the last 20
years” Dr. Feder said. “However, in the near future, we believe every
eye care practitioner will belong to an eye care alliance because they offer so
much more value. ECP alliances will represent a unified voice for
optometry.” – by Daniel R. Morgan
For more information:
- Bobby Christensen, OD, Vision Source vice president of strategic
planning, can be reached at 1849 Kingwood Dr., Suite 101, Kingwood, TX, 77339;
(281) 318-7840; fax: (281) 312-1153; email@example.com;
- Mark Feder, OD, IDOC president and CEO, can be reached at 5 Eversley
Ave., Suite 204, Norwalk, CT, 06851; (203) 853-3333; fax: (203) 838-4362;
- Neil Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Prima Eye Group co-founder, president
and COO, can be reached at 2625 Cumberland Pkwy, Atlanta, GA, 30339; (800)
- Jerry Legerton, OD, MS, MBA, FAAO, a PCON Editorial Board member, can
be reached at 3208 Lucinda Street, San Diego, CA, 92106; (619) 758-9140; fax:
(619) 758-9141; firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jerry Lieblein, OD, ODX CEO, can be reached at
- Brad J. Shapiro, C&E Vision principal, can be reached at 1015
Calle Amanecer, San Clemente, CA, 92673; (949) 272-2450; fax: (949) 260-7843;
- Disclosure: Dr. Legerton has no relevant financial interests to