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For This Optician, No Fitting is Too Tough

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At Premier Vision Group’s offices in Bowling Green, OH, no patient’s individual fitting needs are too difficult for one office thanks to a fully stocked tool box, a little practice and an intense dedication to ensuring every patient has comfortable, well-fitting eyewear.

THE IDEA: Everyone needs individualized frame fittings and experienced opticians know you can’t fit everybody the same. But some individuals present even greater challenges when it comes to adjusting and customizing their eyewear than the average patient. Often, that requires an opticianry staff that is willing to go above and beyond the usual to ensure the best and most comfortable eyewear fitting experience possible. The Bowling Green location of the three-office Premier Vision Group has just that sort of staff and has collected a little bit of a reputation locally for tackling the toughest jobs for some very special patients.

It wasn’t a specialty they actively pursued; it happened organically. “We’re an established practice, we’ve been around for more than 60 years and it just happened,” says Tami Hagemeyer, lead optician, who’s been with the office for almost five years.

“We have one child in a wheelchair who required head guards to keep his head upright. It caused problems with traditional temples and knocked his frame askew when his head moved,” she says. “We have another gentleman who lost his ear to cancer. He had been an established patient, and after his treatment we had to find a solution to steady his frames. So we really fell into it. When patients come in and present with something challenging. You just do it. You try. You work with the frame until it works.”

THE EXECUTION: When Hagemeyer started she asked Dr. Mile Brujic, a partner at Premier Vision Group, about acquiring tools. He gave the OK to buy any tools she needed that would benefit patients.

Since then she has acquired quite the collection, including several unusual pliers and cable temple converters, as well as specialized cutters for stainless steel and titanium temples. “Nothing lasts very long when you’re cutting metal but we have to make these frames fit these patients,” she says.

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Though some of her favorite tools are from Hilco, she also looks outside the usual optical tool suppliers to stock her lab and make sure she can get the job done. In fact, she is already on her second Dremel rotary tool. “I use it more than anyone would expect,” she says. “I use it on temples or if there is sharp edge on a frame or nosepad, I can file it off. I don’t think a Dremel is something you would see in a lot of labs, but I need it. When I started, I got two and sent the other one to one of our other offices. When mine recently stopped working, our office manager told me to take the other one back I had sent. They never even opened the box!”

THE REWARDS: “Patients are so appreciative,” Hagemeyer says. “When the family of the boy in the wheelchair come in, sometimes I’ll even just meet them in the parking lot and adjust his frames in the van so they don’t have to bring him in. Even with all his different issues, they know we got this. They know we are going to figure it out.”

And word has spread. “Now, there are a few places around us — special needs and group homes — that bring their residents to us because they know we can find something to work for all the patients that need eyewear.”

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Do It Yourself: Start Fitting Clients More Precisely

Don’t feel confined by the traditional tools of the trade. If there is specific task that needs to be done, perhaps your local hardware store has the perfect solution.

Practice! Keep old stock, dead stock and patients’ broken frames. “We have a box here of some old frames that we practice adjusting on,” Hagemeyer says.

Build practice time into formal staff training so all opticians can operate at the same level and assess each other’s strengths so any problem that presents can be tackled.

Keep at it. “For us, we’ll often sneak additional practice in when the doctor is out of town and the office is slower,” Hagemeyer says.

And don’t despair. “Know you are going to break some frames and it’s OK,” Hagemeyer says.

 

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Best of the Best

How This Colorado Practice’s ‘Office Culture Blueprint’ is Boosting Referrals

And how they persuaded their team to embrace a new mindset.

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EYE CARE CENTER of Colorado Springs, CO, has a large specialty contact lens practice that owes its success in part to the referrals it receives from ODs and MDs in Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo and as far away as California. You don’t maintain a referral-driven practice without top-level service, and with so much on the line, sometimes it pays to codify what’s expected of staff. But no one responds to a laundry list of rules. “We have found we have to re-educate ourselves and any new team members we hire,” says co-owner Sara Whitney, OD, and this realization recently led the practice to develop its own “office culture blueprint.”

THE IDEA

Translating a vague desire to get the best out of your team into a set of tangible principles is harder than it sounds. “We made a feeble attempt to create a culture statement a few years ago,” recalls Whitney, “and we never finished it because we didn’t really know how to implement it.” Practice founder and co-owner Dr. Reed Bro eventually came across the concept of “above the line behavior,” an approach based on personal responsibility. Whitney says the beauty of this concept is that it encourages “behaviors that create a positive event for the next person in the chain.” The goal is to “resist the temptation to blame…to complain for the sake of complaining, or become defensive.”

Dr. Reed Bro and Dr. Sara Whitney

THE EXECUTION

Whitney, Bro and office manager Mindi Andrade developed what would become the office’s cultural blueprint over several months. It takes its starting point from a few core beliefs. These are matched with a set of encouraged behaviors and desired outcomes. Your core beliefs, Whitney says, “are the reasons you decided to start practicing optometry or open a business.”

Once these basic elements were finalized, the managers initiated a transitional phase in which they used the vocabulary that forms the core of the blueprint in day-to-day interactions with one another and with staff. “We did not present the blueprint to the team until we were comfortable that we were able to personally apply the core beliefs to any situation,” Whitney says. They launched it at the beginning of January, when people are making resolutions and personal improvements. “We printed up the culture matrix on a card for each member of the team.”

Whitney says you can tell right away which staff will be on board and who will resist. “We lost three team members around the time the blueprint was rolled out. It may have just been a personal decision for the employee, but it can cause you to momentarily doubt your decision to demand these behaviors.” It’s important to be strong and stick to your guns at this stage, she says. Remember that the key beliefs you identified as the basis for your blueprint are important. “They are the reason you get up in the morning and come to work,” she says. “Expectations … make some people uncomfortable. They will resist change, and you have to let them move on.”

THE REWARDS

Whitney says the blueprint has delivered its targeted outcomes: an enhanced sense of community, patient satisfaction, trust, loyalty, adherence to treatment plans, and referrals. But there are personal benefits too. “I think those who have embraced this new mindset will be able to see it spilling over into their personal lives.”

Ultimately, Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs’ aim with the blueprint was to cultivate behaviors that grow the business, and so far, that aim is being met. Says Whitney: “We have developed the mindset that being presented with a challenge is our opportunity to get ahead of the problem and to possibly even be someone’s hero.”

Do It Yourself: Develop an Office Culture

  • DON’T RUSH IT. “Take time to define your beliefs over a period of weeks or months,” says Whitney.
  • WALK THE WALK. “Live out behaviors that support your beliefs,” Whitney advises. “You are the biggest example of your practice culture.”
  • TWO-WAY STREET. An office culture doesn’t have to be static: Survey your team periodically and ask for feedback.
  • COMMUNICATE. If you don’t, a blueprint is just a list tacked to a wall.
  • STAY STRONG. A change like this might cost you an employee. But stay the course or it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

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Best of the Best

Tennessee Practice Throws Itself an Epic Birthday Party, Creates New Tradition

This patient-appreciation event made for a great business-building tool.

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ANDREW AND ELIZABETH HOWARD, optometrists and co-owners of LaFollette Eye Clinic in Jacksboro, TN, pride themselves on a level of service that has patients coming in from Ohio, Texas, and Florida. As the practice’s 30th anniversary approached in October last year, they decided a one-day trunk show wouldn’t reach as many people as they wanted. An occasion like this warranted something special.

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THE IDEA

“We like to capitalize on milestones as a way to generate interest, and the 30-year milestone was a great opportunity,” Andy recalls. When it comes to event planning, ideas at LaFollette are typically generated and fleshed out in-house by the practice’s eight-person Leadership Team, which collectively boasts decades in eyecare. But, they also enjoy looking at other practices and sharing ideas with other doctors. “This event was a mixture of the two techniques. We traditionally hold one or two open houses or trunk shows a year, but we had never held a week-long celebration,” Howard says.

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THE EXECUTION

It took the team several meetings to brainstorm ideas, then organize them. Various aspects were delegated to different leads on the team. Says Andy: “Involving the team builds engagement, loyalty and morale, and helped us keep our costs down.”

A “Diamonds and Pearls” theme was chosen. According to Andy, these are not only “modern and traditional anniversary gifts, but it’s also a great song by Prince.” The celebration itself featured giveaways, prizes, a 30-percent off sale, snacks and drinks all week, activities such as face-painting for kids, cornhole, and a “photo booth” with a retro-style instant camera for patients who used ’80s-themed props or their own new glasses for digital images that were shared on social media. In addition, demonstrations were held with reps from local crafters and artists’ groups — even a Lion’s Club member who brought in leader dogs for the blind. (A donation drive was held for the Lion’s Club.)

A local artist’s association was invited to bring in artwork; these were joined on LaFollette’s walls by “storyboards” highlighting the practice’s services, including photographs going back to the ’80s. Long-time patients and ex-staff members joined the celebration, and the optical even changed the music to ’80s hits for the week.

The costs were “minimal” given the scale of the event. A giant eyeglasses balloon sculpture was the most expensive item. “We had enough cupcakes for everyone, but they were made by a team member who is a wonderful baker.” All giveaways were donated by local businesses in exchange for marketing.

THE REWARDS

The biggest surprise to Andy was how many people showed up just to wish LaFollette a happy anniversary. Sales were up during the week, but that was secondary to the goal of celebrating and thanking patients, he says. “It was more fun than we’ve had in a long time; that by itself is worth the effort.” He adds: “Now we need to begin looking for another excuse to have a week-long celebration… We had too much fun to wait 10 more years!”

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Do It Yourself: Hold A 
Patient-Centered Celebration

  • ALL HANDS ON. The key, says Andy, is involving the whole team. “So many people have different talents, and an event like this allows that talent to shine.”
  • CROSS-PROMOTE. Talk to neighboring businesses and see if they’ll contribute prizes in exchange for some free marketing.
  • GO WITH A PRO. Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t have the HR depth that LaFollette has, consider using a professional event planner.
  • WIDE FOCUS. To foster a sense of community, think beyond eyewear. According to Andy, the leader dog for the blind was one of the hits of the week.
  • PICK A MOTIF. Choosing a theme gives you a hook to hang activities on. Practice turning 20? Ask your stylist for “The Rachel.”

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Make the Best Use of a Great Resource: Your Fellow ECPs

A Texas OD’s study group helps eyecare business owners ‘get outside the bubble of their own practice.’

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Dr. Carrie Alfieri thinks of her practice as being on a 20- to 40-year journey.

TO SUCCEED, IN PRACTICE, it is much easier to operate with help from outside sources,” says Carrie Alfieri, OD, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Eye Associates in McKinney, TX. “It’s too hard to operate in a vacuum.” It was this realization that led Dr. Alfieri to get involved in M2M (member to member) meetings sanctioned by PERC+IVA, an alliance of the Professional Eyecare Resource Co-Operative and Infinity Vision Alliance, two nationwide group purchasing organizations comprising independent eyecare practices. As the leader of a group that hosts M2Ms, her official title is Key Advisor (KA) for PERC+IVA. There are about 25 KAs around the U.S. “Think of it as a study group with a facilitator,” Alfieri says.

THE IDEA The M2M format was supplied by PERC+IVA’s leadership, but the study group concept is not new and has been around for over 50 years. “The problem with many study groups,” Alfieri says, is that “either they have very limited access — invitation only — or can be very expensive as you have to join a group or hire a consultant.” The beauty of the PERC+IVA meetings is that they are free to any member.
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“I like to look at my practice as a 20 to 40-year journey,” she says. “We all have different needs depending where we are on that time line. The idea is that there are plenty of patients around, we want to help each other by sharing not only best practices or processes that work, but also things that we have tried and failed. We can all learn from each other and no one is an expert in all areas. That’s the beauty of an M2M meeting: We can all learn how to do something better.” The basic goals are to help drive change, accelerate learning and aid implementation.

THE EXECUTION The main role of the KA is to lead a facilitated discussion that revolves around a central theme. Optometric technology, patient care, the business side, medical developments and many more topics are all ripe for discussion. “I like to think of it as doing a deep dive into a process and helping to connect the dots. It is almost like thinking out loud with a group and using a framework. The framework is the foundation, but the attendees add the details to really make the process shine and excel,” says Alfieri, whose qualifications to be leading such a group are solid: Pinnacle Eye Associates was recognized as a 2018 Best Practice for excellence in eyecare and advancing the industry by CooperVision.
Each KA group is autonomous. PERC+IVA allows any owner, be they an OD, MD or optician, to participate. Each KA creates a “safe” meeting environment that encourages mutual assistance and sharing. The KA can poll the attendees for the upcoming meeting and allow office managers or opticians to attend depending on the topic. On the other hand, if it is felt that the presence of staff might stifle an open and free discussion on a specific topic, that meeting may be limited to owners only. The group sends out invites to all local members and Alfieri often sends out some personal emails. Her group meets quarterly.

THE REWARDS As a group, Alfieri says she and her colleagues strive to challenge the status quo and work together to make their practices more efficient, profitable, technologically advanced, and superior in customer service. In-office, she points out, doctors are not often exposed to new products, technologies, or new or different processes of operating. “The study group allows doctors to get outside the bubble of their own practice and push their office to do better, achieve more, and stay ahead of current trends, ultimately giving patients the best care.” The first step, she says, is simply making the commitment to get involved. “You will be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish.”

Do It Yourself

  • GO YOUR OWN WAY. Not a PERC+IVA member? Network with ODs or owners at your state association and suggest starting your own group.
  • FOLLOW THE LEADER. Appoint a facilitator who can keep each meeting focused on a central theme. It’s easier said than done in a group setting.
  • MIX IT UP. Alfieri says her KA group was put together “with diversity in mind.” Members are from all walks of life and own various models of business.
  • GET A ROOM. Organize a dedicated venue that’s distraction-free. Alfieri’s group meets “in a room that has four walls and a door for privacy.”
  • RE-CAP. Consider a quick “review” at the conclusion of the session to lock in on what was discussed.

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