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Like other business groups within eyecare, ECP alliances and buying groups have had to evolve and develop new programs and resources to support their members. This perhaps was never more apparent than during the past 18 months when practitioners were desperately in need of the support that comes with being part of a larger organization and the sense of community that alliances are known for providing.

As a result, most alliances and buying groups saw a pickup in interest and involvement by members over the past 18 months. And a number of new organizations, sensing this desire for community and supporting resources, have jumped into the fray and launched fresh business models. Indeed, alliances have always been a major part of the eyecare sector, with one-third of doctors belonging to either two or three different groups, Jobson Research has found.

The increasing importance of alliances was demonstrated late in July when Healthy Eyes Advantage announced its move to acquire PECAA, boosting its membership to 12,000 independent eyecare professionals. (For more details, read Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA) Expands With Deal for PECAA)

What these groups offer ECPs are benefits such as purchasing discounts, practice management advice and marketing assistance. And now, in response to an even more challenging environment, they have evolved to provide an array of different tools and services. Their services have expanded to include practice-building education and other support tailored to the private practitioner.

“We rapidly identified needs and resources because, one, our people genuinely care about the success of every member and, two, as an independent business ourselves we faced the same uncertainties and we constantly shared successful company actions with our members,” IDOC president and CEO Dave Brown said. He added, “We were unafraid to invest in our members’ needs, for example, waiving dues for two months, and we had faith the recovery would occur. Simply put, IDOC is an independent business partnering and helping other independent businesses/practices. We believe, and the recovery by our members demonstrates, that we are uniquely positioned to help independent practices manifest a bright future.”

“This year has seen not only a rebound but also growth as compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Health Eyes Advantage chairman and chief executive officer Jim McGrann added. “While COVID-19 was and continues to be a sobering experience for all, the HEA community persevered.

“We’ve heard from many of our members that HEA’s resources and support were key to their ability to withstand the challenging COVID business climate so they could not only recover from the pandemic but also find new ways to thrive in 2021 and beyond. We’re actively at work every day continuing to enhance the value and support we deliver to our members to ensure our mutual success as we move through the next phases of market evolution.”

CECOP North America CEO Ignacio Macias likened the place independent ECPs are in today with that of “a master orchestra conductor for a 1,000-piece band.” He added, “They need support to make their lives easier and simplify what is needed to drive profits. They need trusted partners they can rely on to bring solutions to their challenges.”

Added Amir Khoshnevis, OD, chief medical officer at Vision Source, “Thirty years ago, Vision Source was founded by optometrists who were dedicated to the vision of strengthening private practice optometry and raising the bar with patient care. By nurturing a community of like-minded professionals intent on rallying behind these goals, Vision Source has grown into the nation’s premier network of private practice optometrists, helping to shape the industry and advance private optometry for the next 30 years and beyond.”

Changes in health care delivery, patient demographics and clinical technology all offer tremendous growth opportunities for independent ECPs, noted PECAA general manager and SVP Jamie Hughes and Lance Anderson, OD, vice president of strategic initiatives. “We expect growing and successful practices will be adding new retail and clinical services to their offerings as technologies continue to emerge to allow independent ECP’s to better connect with their patients in the ever-growing e-commerce environment,” Hughes said.

Providing a sense of community and partnership are just two of the many roles that buying groups and ECP alliance groups see themselves playing today, as they work to develop new tools and resources to support their members. Over the next few pages, VM’s editorial team presents a top-line review of these organizations and their philosophies and business strategies.