Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA), the largest community of independent optometrists, opticians and ophthalmologists, has emerged from the pandemic in a strong position. With the power of more than 10,000 independent ECP members and the strength of the resources HEA had in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the organization said it was uniquely positioned to support members in myriad ways, including sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE); offering free legal consultation for navigating the PPP and CARES Act; troubleshooting with vendors; and conducting live, virtual CE events that were attended by thousands.

“Even when many IECP offices were forced to close or maintain minimal schedules, the HEA team was hard at work assisting our members with the unique complexities they faced running their practices amidst an unprecedented interruption of patient care,” chairman and CEO Jim McGrann said.

One HEA event drew more than 1,100 participants from 48 states, with military optometrists participating from a variety of locations worldwide. HEA also introduced resources and tools to help members not only successfully reopen but to reimagine new potential for their practices through diversification of service offerings that enhance the patient experience and introduce new revenue streams, McGrann noted.

At the core of these efforts was the affirmation of the power of communication, collaboration and innovation to an organization such as HEA. Like most in the eyecare industry, HEA never shut down. The group was in constant contact with members and its strategic vendor partners to make available unique benefits, such as flexible payment arrangements, medical billing and coding assistance, and other resources.

Emerging from the collaboration and communication were “two notable tools specifically geared toward helping members emerge from the pandemic,” according to Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO, executive vice president of professional strategies. They are the Recovery Reboot and Practice Booster programs.

Recovery Reboot was a six-part series of guidelines and checklists to help members with their reopening process. Each installment was geared toward a specific time period relative to reopening for comprehensive patient care, Manning said.

The Practice Boosters are designed to help members adopt a simplified approach to leveraging new technology, new services and new methods for growing their practices. Each Practice Booster combined unique vendor partners that created new revenue opportunities through a broader service scope and through the development of subspecialties within a practice.

To date, HEA has introduced two Practice Boosters: one focused on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and one centered around innovative technology, including services such as cognitive screening, contoured prism, telehealth, tele-audiology, digital try-on and check-in efficiency. A third Practice Booster, Medical Software, is planned for this year, and more are planned.

In addition to working to continue improving its group purchasing offering, HEA recently launched HEA PracticeAdvantage, a custom consulting program offered in partnership with Williams Group. The program is designed to help members gain greater clarity around their goals and by helping to develop customized actions plans to accelerate goal attainment. This includes monthly strategy sessions with a personal PracticeAdvantage coach, as well as unlimited access to on-demand consulting with the coach to work on specific practice areas.

HEA also has stepped up efforts to support “a collective voice in promoting and advancing the independent eyecare profession,” McGrann noted. “The most effective means of doing this is through support of the professional associations that represent independent eyecare professionals, to which HEA has long been committed,” he added.

“Over the past year, HEA has executed a strategic initiative to enhance existing arrangements with numerous professional associations, as well as to increase the number of associations with which we partner.”

Healthy Eyes Advantage now teams with 20 state optometric associations, as well as the Opticians Association of America, by far the largest collaborative partnership of its kind in the industry.

Looking ahead, HEA said it is “tremendously bullish about the outlook” through the end of the year and 2022. “Our members are reporting full appointment calendars and are engaging with both HEA and their patients in new and exciting ways that we are confident will facilitate our mutual business success,” McGrann said. “We are eager to continue to bring more member benefits and practice solutions online and expand our partnering arrangements with vendor partners and professional associations alike.”

HEA also is moving back toward in-person engagement with members and prospective members. “While digital tools were a vital means of staying connected during the pandemic, and will always be, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction,” Manning said. Prior to COVID, HEA had increased field representation and expanded its calendar of professional gatherings. These activities took a backseat during much of the last year, but the organization is back with a robust agenda for the balance of this year and even more for 2022.

“The last 15 months have brought no shortages of challenges, but HEA believes that every challenge represents an opportunity, and we’re honored to be the chosen partner of more independent eyecare professionals than any other group,” McGrann said.