What are your reasons for not doing
business electronically? Here's a look at why you shouldn't
hesitate to join the e-commerce revolution.
HOM, O.D., F.A.A.O.
A lot of people are talking about
electronic commerce (e-commerce) for the optometric profession.
But if only a quarter or less of all O.D.s routinely order online,
according to an E-Dr. source, that means that many of us are
contemplating whether to get involved.
What's keeping some of us from braving the
e-commerce waters? I'll discuss some of the common excuses I've
heard as well as reasons not to listen to them.
Traditional models of commerce were either
written or telephone orders between buyer and seller. The modern
model of business-to-business (B2B) commerce uses the World Wide
Web and the Internet to communicate between buyer and seller --
quite a step up from the traditional models. B2B e-commerce for
the optometrist is the "buy" side of the buy-sell-equation.
On the "sell" side of the B2B model are the
manufacturers and distributors.
E-commerce sites since 1996 provided
optometrists with claims processing abilities and benefit
eligibility. But many doctors complained of poor usability and
performance. In addition, there didn't seem to be any time
savings -- transactions took almost 20 minutes to complete.
Fortunately, continual improvements in Web
site function and performance have steadily addressed many of our
concerns. Reimbursement payments are timely, and eligibility
queries can now occur during off-hours. Still, e-commerce seems
problematic for routine ordering of contact lenses, prescription
jobs and frames. At this time, a phone order takes less than 5
minutes, while a Web-based order will take up to 12 minutes.
However, companies are working to eliminate these issues.
What's in it for us?
Many of us who are considering using e-commerce
have difficulty quantifying its value. And, as with anything
requiring our effort and resources, we want to be sure that any
effort on our part will be worth while. So how will e-commerce
benefit us? Let's look at the benefits e-commerce can offer our
- Quality of life.
As early adopters gain e-commerce experience, they tend
to highlight the intangible rewards more than the
tangible. For example, they often rank extra time to
spend with the family, peace of mind and a sense of
security at the top of the list of benefits.
- Service. We
want to know that our offices can run smoothly even if we
can't personally watch over every aspect of procedure.
And we want to know that our offices can deliver the best
service. We measure service by the frequency of back
orders and the time it takes to receive orders. E-commerce
sites that integrate to back-end computer systems will
offer us a high level of order service.
Those of you who are gradually adopting e-commerce can
feel secure that your prescriptions have been ordered
even though the manufacturer or distributor is closed.
You can also rest assured that transcription errors are
minimized and that product availability has been checked
to prevent long delivery times.
As your practice grows, you'll need fewer staffers
because you won't need as many assistants to support your
revenue level. Because e-commerce is so efficient,
practitioners have already realized improved workflow and
productivity of staff members. This efficiency translates
to higher revenues per employee (a frequent measure of
employee productivity) improving with each year of
Although we've addressed many of the common
concerns regarding the use of e-commerce, the majority of
optometrists are still hesitant to join in, which begs the
question: What's holding them back?
Why don't more doctors use e-commerce?
E-commerce leaders E-Dr. and First Insight
have an answer to this question. They both say that a doctor's
familiarity with the Internet is a key factor in the level of his
That said, more than half of all actively
practicing O.D.s graduated before the birth of the World Wide Web
in 1993. In light of E-Dr.'s and First Insight's answer, we can
see why this segment of the O.D. population isn't eagerly using e-commerce.
Fortunately, as these individuals become
more comfortable and familiar with e-mail and surfing the
Internet, we can expect their acceptance and use of e-commerce to
increase. Other hurdles are:
- Web site usability and
performance. Today's content-rich Web pages
require broadband bandwidth greater than 56k dial-up.
Popular forms of broadband access, such as digital
subscriber line (DSL), haven't met the threshold costs or
the wide geographic availability to prompt more rapid
- Many of us are sensitive
to our ownership of patient and business information.
Privacy and security assurances from e-commerce sites
still concern doctors because the information isn't at
their offices. Advances in security technology may soon
eliminate these fears.
The leading eyecare e-commerce Web sites
will be launching new initiatives to enlist us. Some of them will
offer an application service provider (ASP) model to allow us to
rent, rather than purchase, their practice management software.
Other sites will offer improved communication between traditional
practice management software and the site's computer systems.
In today's climate, those of us who
maximize office productivity and deliver the best customer
service won't only survive, we'll flourish.
Dr. Hom has a rich background in e-commerce,
back-end enterprise systems and supply chain management. He
practiced optometry in a variety of settings and currently
practices part-time in San Francisco, exclusively caring for
complicated contact lens patients. He now leads all strategy and
execution of corporate Application Service Provider (ASP)
programs at Silicon Graphics, Inc., in Mountain View, Calif.
Optometric Management, Issue: January 2001