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  April 2, 2014

Northeastern Eye Institute Touches Customers 'Everywhere They Are'

By John Sailer

Patricia Thomas, ABOC, NCLC,
Director of Retail Operations

SCRANTON, PA.—After instituting doctor-driven dispensing, complete with a pager system similar to those used while waiting for a table at a restaurant, along with other promotional efforts, Northeastern Eye Institute saw a substantial uptick in sales for this optical group in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Doctor-Driven Dispensing
"Two summers ago we instituted doctor-driven dispensing. We absolutely have noticed an uptick in sales. The average sale is better, and there's a lot less buyers' remorse," Patricia Thomas, ABOC, NCLC, director of retail operations, told dba. "The pager is for the dispenser to come into the room. There are lifestyle questions documented in the patient record for the doctor and dispenser to springboard off and talk about. It's very personal. Patients are very flattered by the three-way conversation about what's important to them. Then they don't walk out to the dispensary nervous. It takes that anxiety away, they feel more confident that they'll make better choices because the doctor and the optician had a personal conversation about the quality of their vision."

Touching the Four Pillars
The Pennsylvania optical group also generated more business by participating in local events beyond just the traditional health fairs. Choosing community outreach activities representing the four pillars people are passionate about (music, food, sports, travel) brought NEI to events it would typically not participate in...and exposure to people the company might not normally reach.

"We always do a lot of community outreach, health fairs, 5Ks, but this year we kicked it up a notch because we're very intrigued about the four pillars of what people are passionate about," Thomas told dba. "I asked everyone to think about something in their community that would match the four pillars."

For the first event, NEI sponsored a night at the area's newly renovated ballfield. "I pulled some strings to get a Friday night. We all had our Northeastern Eye Institute t-shirts on, we had four big tables, probably 20 staff members, and a couple of docs handing out brochures, and we had fun," Thomas explained. "We had this great community outreach, it was different, it was fun, and we touched 9,000 people,"

Much of the inspiration for instituting these new programs came from the company's participation in the annual Transitions Academy, where this year NEI was a finalist for the 2013 Regional Retailer of the Year Award. NEI touched the other three pillars with a wine and chocolate festival (food), a summer marketplace with weekly band performances (music), and a bridal show (travel). "Travel was a little bit challenging, but we did partner up at a bridal show next to a travel agency, which we normally would not do," said Thomas. "We want to touch our customers everywhere they are."

OD and MD Group Grows Through Acquisition
Started by a group of ophthalmologists that got together in 1984, Northeastern Eye Institute has grown over the years through the acquisition of optometric practices. Today, the optical group has 10 ophthalmologists and more than 20 optometrists servicing 17 locations plus two ambulatory surgery centers covering northeastern Pennsylvania.

The roots of the organization reach even deeper than the mid-'80s when three families came together to form Northeastern Eye Institute. "They had been practicing with their fathers since the '30s, so now we're in our third generation of ophthalmologists and optometrists," said Thomas. "There are over 250 employees, and we all work for them. They're wonderful families. There are seven owners at this point, some of the original from 1984, some of the original doctors have retired or even passed away, but their sons or daughters are now board members. We have six ophthalmologists and one optometrist who are board members."

Over the years, growth came from acquiring optometric practices. "We had three, and then we had five, and then we'd pick up another practice that maybe had two or three locations, so that's really where our growth came from," Thomas said. "Many of them were wonderful doctors that were referring surgical cases to our ophthalmologists."

While NEI ran its own lab for a while, the company made the strategic decision to sell it. "We did have a laboratory for many, many years, a surfacing laboratory that we put in place in 1991," said Thomas. "We sold the laboratory to Essilor several years ago, so we have a very good partnership with them. While we don't have to sell exclusively, we primarily sell their products, and we do very well."

Software System Upgrade
Northeastern Eye Institute is in the midst of upgrading its electronic health records system. "We're implementing a new computer system, and one of the reasons that we made the decision for the system is because it makes managed vision care processing of claims and posting of payments easier," Thomas explained. While Nextgen is used for medical records, the optical dispensary is using Acuity Logic from Eyefinity. "We felt we needed a program that was more for a larger integrated retailer because we have a distribution system and we needed some kind of inventory control program," she said, adding, "We're all cloud based."

Also for the optical dispensary, NEI will install Otto, which can integrate with Acuity Logic and provides technologies for frame selection and more. "We're looking to do that as soon as we get our software system under our belts," said Thomas. "That's the next software piece on the agenda. Our implementation is starting April 21, and every store will be up and running by July 3."

By increasing sales through doctor-driven dispensing, participating in community events that touch the four pillars, and much more, and managing everything related to those additional sales with efficient software systems, Northeastern Eye Institute keeps the company growing by touching its customers "everywhere they are."

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