Optometric Management Tip # 130   -   Wednesday, July 14, 2004
In-office optical labs offer more benefits than you think

It seems that the popularity of in-office optical labs for edging and finishing lenses is dropping in popularity. More and more doctors who own practices feel like operating a lab is just too much hassle, especially more recent graduates who had little or no training in ophthalmic optics in optometry school. The ever-expanding curriculum is squeezing out some of the traditional gems of our profession, like optical lab work, dispensing and practice management. This is understandable, and I would never advocate stifling our growing scope of practice, which deserves a great deal of our attention. But, I guess Iím not willing to say I canít do it all.

I think optometrists who elect to send out all their optical lab work are overlooking a huge secret to practice building. Even if you think you arenít interested in operating an in-office lab, you owe it to yourself to take a second look.

Benefits

The obvious and most-cited benefits of doing your own lab work are speed of delivery and increased profitability. These are significant points, and I find them to be true, but there is really more to it than that. The biggest benefit is maintaining control over more of the services you provide.

Letís first recognize the major importance of optical dispensing to most optometric practices. Even if the practice has a great emphasis on ocular disease, many patients still need refraction and optical services. Dispensing can always run concurrently with clinical services, without a doctor, so any practice can offer both. And the financial return of the dispensary is so big, even compared to the primary care work of the doctor, that it deserves our attention.

Once youíve decided to have an optical in your practice, achieving excellence in that area is extremely important to practice growth and success. Optical dispensing canít appear to be a sideline. And many doctors actually try to de-emphasize their optical in order to make their professional services look like the strong point. That is a big mistake. Patients understand eyeglasses and retail far better than they do medical care, and they generalize one department to the whole practice. If they receive poor service in the optical, they believe the primary care aspect also suffers. The service that patients experience in your optical department, and the resultant eyewear they will use for years to come, are major factors in the reputation of your practice.

Getting back around to the benefits if in-office labs -- the improved control over the product allows your practice to have a better optical. Better control means fewer disappointments and better flexibility to fix problems when they do occur. Depending on other suppliers, which will invariably let you down, hurts your level of service.

Here are few other points to consider: Economics Lab equipment

Technology has made lens edging easier than ever, so it requires less training to produce perfect lenses. Tasks such as lens blocking, frame patterns, safety beveling, edge polishing and edge grooving are all automated. You can offer many lens designs through your lab Ė such as single vision lenses with antireflective coating already applied to the blank, poly, high-index and photochromics. While you canít stock finished uncut is multifocal, you can buy surfaced uncuts and edge them. Getting started is easy; you already have a lensometer and maybe a tinting unit and some optical lab space.

We were taught in school that surfacing was really not practical for a doctorís office. Baloney! Think big and if you are already successful with edging, and have a strong volume of lab work, take the next step and acquire surfacing equipment, such as a computerized layout blocking system, generator, polishing machines and back surface hard coating machines. Itís expensive, but it brings you to a whole new level of cost savings, and it will pay for itself in larger practices. Surfacing allows you to move into bifocal and progressive lens manufacturing, in all your favorite brands, and since you only stock base curves rather than individual lens powers, your lens inventory is not that large.

There are other new technologies that allow doctorís offices to fabricate the actual prescription lens, such as lens casting. A good place to start your education into all this is at a major eye care convention.


Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management