A colleague asked me recently about my opinion on in-office fabrication labs, since she was considering purchasing one for her practice. It is a good tip topic, since it seems to me that owning and operating in-office labs is not as popular an idea among optometrists as it used to be. I know the training in optometry school on lens fabrication has decreased to little or none, and I think many ODs today just want to concentrate on clinical issues. But owning your own lab does not need to take the doctor's time. It only makes sense when all the lab work is performed by technicians, and today's lab equipment makes that easier than ever.
The question of owning a finishing lab comes down to this... are you going to dispense glasses? If your practice is doing glasses - and nearly all ODs do - then you should want your dispensary to offer great service and you should make it as profitable as possible. Plus, I think it is very important to control as much of the product side of the practice as possible. It is your reputation on the line when glasses take too long, or when glasses aren't right and you are unable to fix the problem easily.
I believe practices that currently sell an average of 3 pairs of glasses per day, 5 days per week, should have a finishing lab. The intent is certainly that you will grow that part of your practice to exceed 3 per day, and the lab will help you do that. And if you approach 10 pairs per day, I would consider adding lens surfacing equipment. I have had a finishing and surfacing lab in my practice for nearly 20 years.
An optical lab is one of those few equipment purchases that usually costs nothing. Do the math yourself. Look at your monthly wholesale lab bill. Figure out how much you would save if you edged and tinted all the lenses yourself. Find out the price of a single vision CR-39 blank when purchased in bulk for inventory. Find out how much your lab charges to edge, roll and polish and insert a progressive lens to a metal frame. Calculate how many hours per day your technician would devote to lab work (keep in mind you already have to handle, ship and verify every Rx job even without a lab). Find out what the loan or lease payment would be on a new edger and tint machine. You will probably find that you could pay all the costs immediately, and still put money in your pocket each month. And when the equipment is paid off, the profit increases.
And it's not just about profit - it's about providing great service, patient convenience and high quality glasses, which will build your practice faster than any other effort.
Not sure how to learn about the lab equipment and how to operate it? Call the manufacturers of lens edging machines or visit them at a convention. If you buy one, the rep will teach you and your staff.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management