Thanks to the many readers who sent comments to me about parts one and two in this series on vision plans. There is no question that there are many diverse opinions about how to manage these programs in practice. Your comments will provide great topics for future Management Tip of the Week articles.
In this issue, I'd like to cover four more aspects of maximizing your profitability with vision plans.
If a large percentage of your patient base is made up of vision plan members, then non-covered services (and products) are extremely important and you should develop a plan to maximize usage of them. Review this list and see if you can add or improve these services in your practice.
- Exam upgrades. The classic option to offer is routine retinal photos, but there are others such as macular pigment testing or other high tech screenings. The concept is that the vision plan covers basic routine eye exams, but some people will opt for more advanced technology and be willing to pay a nominal fee out of pocket. Have your staff present a simple handout at the front desk explaining the procedure and that the fee is not covered by vision plans. The patient can initial yes or no and you take it from there.
- Medical eye care. Expand your services to include diagnosis and treatment of eye disease to the maximum scope of your license. Invest in advanced diagnostic instruments. Bill these services to Medicare or private medical insurance.
- Optometric specialties. Many specialty areas like low vision, vision therapy, sports vision, industrial vision, computer vision, and corneal refractive therapy are not covered by vision plans. Build a practice in one of these fields.
- Premium optical products. Advanced lenses such as digital freeform progressives and premium antireflective coatings are either not covered or allow a higher reimbursement.
- Non-Rx sunglasses. You can sell them if you have a great selection. Great for contact lens patients.
- Second pairs of glasses. My practice offers a 50% discount on multiple pairs purchased at the same time and we sell a lot of them. The first pair can be covered by the vision plan. Do the math and see what your profit margin is after giving 50% off of your usual prices. Some profit is better than no profit.
Maximizing patient demand
This is one factor that vision plans generally do very well and it is the main reason most ECPs join the networks. Vision plans can quickly bring patients to your office just by being on the provider list, but you can attract even more patients with the following tips.
- Send special recall cards. If you notify patients who are due for their next eye exam and you remind them that the visit is covered by their vision plan, you will get a huge response. Do you run a separate search for recall by vision plan every month? Do you use a special post card with the vision plan logo? If you are confirming preappoints, does your staff mention that the exam is authorized?
- Promote vision plans on your website and in other forms of communication. Check with your vision plan companies to get permission to use the plan logo and display them in your marketing materials.
- Announce your participation in a new plan. If you join a vision plan, call the major employers who use it in your area and ask if they have an employee newsletter or bulletin board. Try to have a small article or announcement placed about your practice and that you are now a provider. You might even consider running a small ad in the local newspaper.
Contact lens services
Some ECPs tend to take contact lenses for granted. We fit contacts if the patient asks for them and we provide ongoing care for current wearers, but we are fairly passive about it. I think that approach is missing out on a huge opportunity, especially if your practice is a strong user of vision plans. Contact lens fees for both services and products are generally almost fully collectable under vision plan rules. You may want to re-read that previous sentence because you can't say that about many eye care services and products. Most vision plans require a minor discount of 10 to 15% off usual fees, but after that the plan pays an allowance and the patient pays the balance. That makes contact lenses extremely attractive in my book.
I think most ECPs should raise their contact lens professional fees and leave their product prices fairly low and competitive. After that, realize that enthusiasm sells and if you simply recommend contact lenses to more people, even if they don't ask about them, you'll fit more. Start by having lots of your patients try on a free trial pair in your office at no fee. Just try them on and have your technician check with the patient and see if a fitting exam is desired.
In-office optical lab
Reducing your cost of goods is a great way to increase profits when the prices are fixed by vision plans. One of the best ways to reduce cost of goods is to operate your own in-office lens finishing lab. Of course this is only effective with plans that allow you to use your own lab, but many do and even VSP, which historically required the use of a contract network lab, now has a program that pays you to do the lab work. With the advanced technology of lens edgers today, it's very easy to train anyone who knows how to use a lensometer to cut and edge perfect lenses. Arrange for a demo of a new edger in your office or compare several brands at the next major eye care conference. And check out the prices of lens uncuts to see how much you can save on your lab bill.
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