Article Date: 9/1/2011

Lab Selection: Understanding Cost Vs. Value
vendor management

Lab Selection: Understanding Cost Vs. Value

Answer eight questions to ensure that you are investing in the right optical lab.

Mile Brujic, O.D., Bowling Green, Ohio, Brian Green, Toledo, Ohio

We see patients on a daily basis and are always exploring ways to better serve their needs. In this pursuit of excellence in patient care, we have a number of options to help us care for them. One that immediately comes to mind is the choice of optical laboratories that will help us meet the functional needs of our patients. The eyeglasses that our patients purchase from our practices, often times, are what patients use to gauge their experience at our office. Translation: It is their constant reminder of our practice. Therefore, it is critically important that we use the right optical lab.

There are many variables to consider when selecting an optical lab. Here, we provide a methodology to selecting one that best meets you and your patient's needs.

Cost of goods vs. the value of goods

Before we present this methodology of lab selection, let's consider how we perceive lab bills. (This exercise is especially meaningful today, as all businesses are looking to reduce expenses.) As one of the variable costs we incur each month, we must examine the categorization of this dollar amount and determine whether optical lab bills are truly an expense or monies that can be considered an investment.

In terms of investment, again, we understand that in many instances, the glasses we dispense are what give patients their perception of our practice. Taken a step further, when we optimize the quality of the lenses we prescribe, we maximize the chances that our patients who require vision correction will develop a positive perception of our practice and return for our services.

This patient perception often impacts the future success of the practice. Therefore, we can easily question the term “expense” as it applies to optical labs. In fact, we may need to rethink the dollars spent with optical labs as an investment that pays dividends in terms of happy patients who continue to receive care from us, refer others to our office and will, thus, determine the long-term success of our practice.

While cost is a factor in our optical lab selection, it must be balanced with the benefits that will be delivered as a service of doing business with a particular lab. Realizing the impact of such a decision on our practices, we need to carefully take stock in the quality of all the lenses and services that an optical laboratory provides. This will enable us to determine the true “value” of our investment.

The following eight questions form a methodology that allows you to take stock in your lab. By answering these questions, you will better understand whether you are making an investment in the right lab.

1 Does your lab's mission match with your practice's mission?

As optometrists, we are chiefly concerned with the visual welfare of our patients. We examine our patients utilizing certain standards and prescribe glasses, contact lenses and medications to help our patients see as clearly as possible. As such, we are constantly in pursuit of the newest technologies to help us better care for our patients. With this in mind, does your lab share this pursuit? Does it offer the latest in lenses, lens processing and commitment to the quality that you demand of yourself? The bottom line is that the optical lab you choose should be positioned to offer you the best and latest technologies.

It is critical that your lab shares your views, as it directly supports your efforts to provide the highest levels of care. To assess whether the lab is aligned with your mission, initiate a discussion with your lab representative at which you focus on issues, that are critical to the success of your practice. Ask specific questions. For example, in addition to offering the best and latest technologies, does your lab share in your commitment to customer service (fulfillment times, problem-solving, etc.)?

2 Is your lab accessible and responsive to your practice's needs, and do lab representatives regularly communicate with you?

Communication and responsiveness are the keys to any relationship, including your business relationships. Therefore, your optical lab representative should meet with you on a regular basis to address any concerns or needs the practice may have.

3 Is your lab interested in helping you offer enhanced care for your patients?

Labs can offer enhanced care through a variety of means:

► high-level quality products
► reliable and quick turnaround
► the latest in lens processing and personalized lenses
► enhanced practice management and opportunities for better patient engagement
► office training for your opticians and paraoptometrics, as they are integral to maximizing patient outcomes and practice potential

As a business owner, you understand the need to continuously re-invest in your practice to ensure enhanced patient care. As a partner in your business, you should expect your optical lab to do the same.

4 Does your lab report data regularly to your practice?

One commonality among successful practices is their ability to set goals and measure progress. If you don't have the ability (or time) to measure progress, you should be able to rely on your optical lab to regularly report the data it collects from your practice. It's not difficult to access your total lens usage by materials and styles, remake/return percentages (and remake reasons), the percentage of third-party work and the dollars that are spent with the optical lab. Your lab should be able to provide a good perspective on benchmarking not only in your practice, but in practices in your region and across the entire eyecare industry. Often times, these benchmarks can equip you for practice growth.

5 Does your lab offer resources to facilitate utilizing the newest technologies and techniques?

As your partner, your optical lab should work tirelessly to offer the latest in education and in-office technology to enhance the patient experience. It may even endorse peer-to-peer networking groups. These labs realize their success depends on your success.

6 Is your lab a stickler for “policy,” or does it understand the long-term value of each patient?

Through a lifetime, patients spend a lot of money with us. Is it worth losing a patient because either your practice or your lab refuses to cover the repair costs of a pair of lenses that are one day outside their warranty? Okay, I'm sure you can think of one or two patients who may be worth losing, but a wise colleague once said, “The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer.” Your optical laboratory should realize what each patient means to your practice, in terms of revenue, and, as a result, be willing to work with you to keep each and every one.

7 Is your lab willing to create promotions and programs that help to create positive and sustained growth for your practice?

All laboratory and in-office programs should be created to positively change behavior and to better educate our patients to the benefits of all the products and services we offer. We're not advocating the promotion of products and services to patients who don't need them, but rather educating patients about the products and services that can enhance their lives.

8 Can you rely on your lab?

If you've chosen to work with an optical laboratory that continuously fails to deliver and you lose a patient, what has that cost you? Pay to work with an optical lab that will deliver your work correctly and on time.

What about your support?

As you ask yourself these eight questions, it's also important to consider to what degree you support your optical lab. There is value in placing more of your “eggs” in as few baskets as possible. We have found that the more you support your optical laboratory, the more they'll support you. This is critically important when it comes to attaining the highest levels of service.

Choosing your laboratory is not always a simple decision. However, do not underestimate the importance of optical lab selection—it's the first step toward a mutually beneficial relationship that helps you enhance the patient experience and grow your practice. If you think about it, the relationship with your optical lab could prove to be one of your most valuable practice-building resources. OM

Dr. Brujic is a partner in a four-location optometry practice in Northwest Ohio. He practices full-scope optometry with a special interest in glaucoma, contact lenses and ocular disease management of the anterior segment. E-mail him at brujic@prodigy.net
Mr. Green is the director of sales at Toledo Optical Laboratory, an independently owned laboratory since 1947. Based out of Toledo, Ohio. E-mail him at briang@toledooptical.com. To comment on this article, e-mail optometricmanagement@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2011