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Looking to Help Your Community but Don’t Know Where to Start? Here’s How It’s Done

Here’s how Classic Vision Care, of Kennesaw, GA, run by Dr. Mital Patel and her husband Ankit, teamed up with MUST Ministries.

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Classic Vision Care and MUST Ministries Marietta, GA 

CAUGHT UP IN THE DAY-TO-DAY demands of running a profitable business, it’s easy to forget the valuable community-outreach resource you, as optometrists and opticians, have at your disposal. But translating good intentions into action isn’t always easy. Sometimes, all you need is the right partner. Here’s how Classic Vision Care, of Kennesaw, GA, run by Dr. Mital Patel and her husband Ankit, teamed up with MUST Ministries — a faith-based organization from neighboring Marietta, that has been providing food, shelter and basic medical services to the less fortunate in its community for decades — and came up with a plan to get free glasses into the hands of those in need.

THE IDEA:

 MUST Ministries, who help people in poverty in Cobb and Cherokee counties, was planning a health fair for the homeless when Ankit Patel reached out looking for a way to give back to the community. Kaye Cagle, MUST’s vice president for marketing, suggested Classic Vision Care participate in the fair, but Patel “took it a step further and said he would also help with some of our [non-homeless] clients in need.”

It was a natural fit. “We agreed on MUST because we have similar values of integrity and teamwork,” says Ankit’s wife and practice co-owner, Dr Mital Patel.

THE EXECUTION:

Classic Vision patients who donate “gently used” glasses to needy patients identified by MUST receive $50 toward the purchase of a new complete pair. “Our doctors [Dr. Patel, Dr. Ronald Becker, and Dr. Mark Machen] provide the exams at our locations,” says Dr. Patel, who estimates Classic Vision and a second practice run by the Patels in Marietta have received about 100 donated pairs and seen around 35 patients in the first year. “It has been a great way to put old glasses to use. Patients are very receptive to the idea and love that they’re not wasted.”

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Says Cagle: “We have a wait list for people who want to have the screening and obtain eyewear.”

THE REWARDS:

 
Patel describes the payoff as “endless from personal to business. I have always enjoyed giving back to the community. I also have a passion for optometry and thought the best way for me to give back is by doing what I know best. It’s also rewarding for my staff since they enjoy helping people see clearly.” There have been material benefits too: “People think of us when in need of eyecare. There are tax benefits since we donate our chair time, doctor time, and optician time … and donate the lenses, either single vision or bifocals.”

Cagle concurs: “The response from the clients is our reward. When they find out they can be screened and get the eyewear they need, they are grateful and excited. Seeing properly is a blessing and one many cannot afford.”
 

Do It Yourself: Community Outreach Partnership

1. Charity Case. Avoid the term “charity” when getting the word out. It’s an old-fashioned word that, for some, connotes pity and dependence. Talk in terms of partnerships, causes, campaigns and outreach.

2. There’s an App for That If you sell online, there are a variety of apps available to allow customers to donate to a cause. Some, like Share the Love, let them choose between several.

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3. Double-edged Sword. A study by Cone Communications shows that 87 percent of Americans would buy from a store that backed a cause they care about, but more than two-thirds would avoid one supporting something they don’t believe in. Choose wisely.

4. Acts of God. you’re in Tornado Alley, on the Atlantic coast, or in a quake zone, why not set up a disaster readiness fund? Your customers will feel they are directly benefiting.

5. Make It Real. Engage with the beneficiaries of your (and your customers’) largesse by sharing recipients’ stories on your website.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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Best of the Best

This Office Manager Got Her Staff to ‘Own’ the Patient Experience. Here’s How…

She came up with a nine-step program for employees.

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CINDY BRUNER, PRACTICE manager at Professional Family Eyecare, which has offices in Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Greenville, OH, says new employees will never add to what they already know if you don’t set expectations when they start; otherwise you set them up to fail. As she sees it, it’s her job to help them understand this. “When you have long-term employees it’s easy to become ‘Magoo’ and do and say things without realizing how they’re perceived by customers, and by … teammates.” Managers, in her view, should “help staff understand that as co-workers we are customers to each other, not just the patient.” To accomplish this, she created her own training program for implementation at the practice, “9 Steps to a Phenomenal Patient Experience.”

THE IDEA

A few years ago, Bruner came across a book titled 10 Steps to a Phenomenal Patient Experience: Customer Service Secrets for the Eye Care Team by Sharon Alamalhodaei, COMT. After getting the nod from owners Dr. Jillynn Bruner and Dr. James Dickman, she combined what she learned from this with resources picked up at a Patient’s Voice skills clinic to create a list of steps that fit the culture and patients at Professional Family Eyecare. As a final touch, Bruner incorporated the “Love Dare” concept, borrowed from the marriage counseling book of the same name based on a set of 40 daily principles. “Instead of 40 days,” she says, “I broke the steps down into nine weeks. My owners described their vision of what they want their practice to be known for and with my 25 years of hospital management training I pulled my resources together and away we went.”

THE EXECUTION

Staff and doctors were given a quiz to ascertain their perceptions of how customer service impacted business. Then she handed out a “Commitment to the Practice Standards Accountability” form. Staff were asked to return this with statements explaining how they would contribute to the standards outlined on the form.

According to Bruner, the nine steps are: 1. Who’s the Boss? 2. Give Patients more Than They Expect . . . Respect 3. Handle Difficult Patients & Situations with Finesse 4. Be Ultra Aware of Time 5. Be Extremely Knowledgeable and Professional 6. Use Amazing Phone Skills 7. Be ‘On’ Stage 8. Listen to and Learn from Patient Feedback 9. Work as a Team!

Every Monday for nine weeks, staff were sent the steps in an email and at the end of each they signed an agreement to “uphold/own” the Phenomenal Patient Experience. Later, staff were given an “Own Each Patient’s Experience” accountability form and given seven days to document examples they utilized from the nine steps. Their Team Lead had to sign off.

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Getting staff to cooperate with something new is “always an eye roll” Bruner says, but it soon became part of the work process.

THE REWARDS

Implementing the plan was “most definitely worth it” Bruner says. “I was told by a wise doctor that if you take care of your patients, they will take care of you. This is true; if you give the patients a phenomenal experience, they will return and … share their experience with others.” The result is new and returning customers, which helps financially but also “sets our expectations of how we want our customers treated.”

Bruner urges managers to spend time with staff and let them know it is their job to “own each patient’s experience.” This “builds satisfaction, loyalty and referrals by creating a positive patient relationship. Staff learn to listen before responding,” she says. “That’s what patients truly want — to be heard and understood.”

Do It Yourself: Implement a customer experience training program

  • RECRUIT THE DOCS. Employees may be reluctant at first; having the doctors participate helped her staff buy in, Bruner says.
  • INTEGRATE. “We have monthly staff meetings and there is always a customer service topic following the program implementation,” she says.
  • TWO-WAY STREET. As a manager, be open to whatever new ideas, behaviors and skills suggest themselves as a result of the program.
  • KEEP IT UP. Bruner feels such programs are most useful when done once a year with staff.
  • UP FRONT. Bruner has all new hires participate in the program immediately and lets them know that this is part of the “behavior” portion of their 90-day evaluation.

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Best of the Best

This California Lens Lab Has an Inspiring Recovery Story

They were burned to the ground in last year’s wildfires. Six months later, they’re thriving.

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SOMETIMES, THE THINGS that make you the best of the best are born of tragic necessity. On Nov. 8, 2018, the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in a century, raged through the Northern California town of Paradise, destroying it entirely. Eighty-six people died in the blaze, which destroyed more than 18,000 structures. Among them was Paradise Lens Lab, which the day before had just celebrated its seventh anniversary.

THE FIRE

“I was headed to work a little before 7am,” recalls owner Gary Bates of that day. “It was a clear day but off to the side, where the sun was coming up over the hill I could see either clouds or smoke around the sun.” After about an hour at work, Bates headed to a lookout point 200 yards away. “The flames … were racing up the hill towards the back of the lab.”

A brief discussion about what they might be able to save was soon abandoned. “The Fire Department was telling people it was time to run.” There were five staff including Bates working that day; all got out, but all lost their homes. A few days later it was confirmed that the building and all its equipment was lost.

The rebuilt Paradise Lens Lab in Chico, CA. ‘It took us about three weeks to get our first edger and start the buildout,’ says owner Gary Bates.

THE REBUILD

That weekend, Bates and wife Tammy’s first thought was to move to Oregon. “But we just decided we had too many people relying on us. We had to give it a shot. That day we were out looking for commercial real estate” in Chico, CA, 15 miles west of Paradise.

Already reeling from the loss of his business, a second shock followed: “I thought I was insured fully, you know, rookie business owner.” Bates’ insurer informed him that on the $400,000 worth of equipment and stock he’d lost, he was covered for just $3,500. Help was at hand, however. Prior to opening Paradise Lens Lab, Bates, who’s been in the optical industry since 1989, had worked at Coburn Technologies. He was able to marshal some contacts there to get some edgers delivered within a matter of weeks. Later, Satisloh came through with a donation of brand new digital equipment. And a group of local doctors he does a lot of work for gave Bates $50,000 to help him start back up. “The generosity and kindness was amazing right after the fire,” he says. Most importantly, Bates’ customer base came through, pledging to stay with him.

Not everyone was so helpful, though. According to Bates, one major industry player “actually tried to poach my business. They went into all my shops, and promised them all this awesome pricing to ‘help them out.’”

Thankfully, things moved fast. “It took us about three weeks to get our first edger and start the buildout.” He was able to take some customers back almost immediately, though some were asked to be a little patient, as he didn’t want to underserve anyone. “Within a month and a half we were able to get them all back and provide excellent service for them all.”

THE POSITIVES

Many in this situation would see it as an insurmountable setback. But the Bateses have been rewarded for their determination. He says that whereas before Paradise Lens relied on conventional surfacing, with the new equipment, they can now process digital freeform lenses. Amazingly, business is actually up about 32 percent from before the fire. “We’ve gotten more customers; people have reached out to us wanting to give us their business.” And while they still live in their travel trailer, because of a post-fire housing shortage, they’re philosophical. “At least we have a travel trailer,” Bates says.

The rebuild at Paradise is now fully finished. “We’ve been complete for about three months now. It took us just a little over three months to build out and get all the equipment, get everybody trained and up to date,” he says.

PHOTO GALLERY (13 Images)

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Let This Texas OD Tell You About a Way to Serve Underprivileged Patients in Your Area

Helping kids see has never been easier.

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IT’S A SIMPLE, sad fact that in this country millions of children are dependent on charitable organizations, and the doctors who work with them, for their vision exams and eyewear. On the local level, many practices encounter community members in need, and even if the ODs are willing to donate their time, providing the hardware — like frames, lenses and finishing —is a hurdle that is hard to overcome. Luckily, there are resources to tackle just this problem, and doctors making the most of them, like Dr. Jerry Gundersheimer, owner of Eye-Do Optical in Sherman, TX.

THE IDEA

Gundersheimer has been a member of the Sherman Noon Lions Club for 25 years, and has been providing free eye exams and eyeglasses to needy schoolchildren in Grayson County, Texas for the vast majority of that time. His optical manager, Albert Yougas, got wind of the Changing Life Through Lenses Program from the non-profit Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF) via Eye Do’s Essilor rep (you don’t have to be an Essilor customer to join the program; see below). This created an opportunity for the club to save the expense of the lenses, frames and lens finishing, the cost of which is now picked up by EVF. They have been doing so for at least six months now.

THE EXECUTION

The partnership has been highly successful, according to Gundersheimer, who has seen about a hundred kids or so since it began. With its help, he has also been seeing adults on behalf of the Sherman Evening Lions Club. “The Essilor Vision Foundation has been a dream come true for us. They are so easy to work with. The lenses they provide are of superior optical quality, too.”
According to Gundersheimer, Essilor will walk you through the steps it takes to send the glasses in for Rx-ing. “It’s a no-brainer,” he says.
EVF also has programs for optician-owned boutiques, including See Kids Soar, an in-office donation campaign that gives optical staff the tools they need to raise funds for underprivileged kids who are going without eyecare.

THE REWARDS

“As optometrists,” says Gundersheimer, “we took an oath to make certain that no individual in our community lacked for proper vision care.” The Changing Life Through Lenses program, he says, “helps each of us to fulfill that portion of our oath.” He adds that it has created goodwill for his practice throughout his community via word-of-mouth, and the satisfaction that comes from serving those we live with who can’t otherwise afford their vision care needs.
Gundersheimer says there may be financial benefits in the form of others hearing about his benevolence, and thus widening his paying patient base, “But truthfully, if this is the motivation for entering into this particular public domain, you are doing it for the wrong reason! The benefits are more emotional, and that is far more rewarding, in my opinion.
“We will continue to avail ourselves of this relationship as long as the Essilor Vision Foundation will continue to provide this amazing program.”

Do It Yourself: Partner with Essilor Vision Foundation

  • CALL YOUR REP. “My advice to anyone who wishes to utilize this program,” says Gundersheimer, “is to contact your Essilor rep and see how easy it would be to help those very deserving individuals out.”
  • NO REP? NO PROB. You don’t have to be an Essilor customer to participate. Create an account here: changinglifethroughlenses.org
  • NOT AN OD? Essilor Vision Foundation’s See Kids Soar program can help your optical retail biz raise funds for kids who can’t afford vision care: evfusa.org/get-involved/see-kids-soar-enrollment
  • TESTIMONIAL. Watch Dr. Gundersheimer discuss his experience with the program here: invisionmag.com/051901
  • SMALL PRINT. EVF will ask you to sign an agreement; among the requirements are an NPI or license number. Patients must be at, or below, the poverty level and without insurance to qualify.

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