A to Z Eye Care

“I strongly believe in bringing the highest quality vision care to our community.”

Marcus Appy, OD, has only been an optometrist for two years and a practice owner for 18 months. But his passion for eyecare and the community in general came through in his nomination from Loren Azevedo, OD, who works with his wife Linda alongside Appy. “Marcus jumped into 50 degree water, dressed as an eyeball, to raise money for a children’s museum, hired Wildfire to build a cutting-edge Facebook presence, created ‘Team A to Z’ cycling and running jerseys and will run Avenue of the Giant marathon,” Azevedo wrote.

Opening in his hometown, Appy expanded the practice’s medical eyecare by specializing in difficult-to-fit contact lenses, becoming glaucoma certified and offering advanced technology. “Our mission of offering all options to all patients has helped us get through these lean times,” he said.

Emphasis on people is also a big part of the A to Z plan. Appy prides himself on treating all patients as “guests in our home,” recently implementing a team approach to patient care.

“We try to provide a stimulating work environment and realize we are lucky to have staff with a wide array of talents,” Appy said. “By involving the staff in the processes, they are much more willing to go along with and help with changes we make,” he added.

Smyth County Eye Associates
Marion, Virginia

“We want our patients to have a truly exceptional experience while in our office.”

In light of the economic downturn, Susan Keene, a 20-year OD and 13-year business owner, began to emphasize value packages and focus on specialized medical services. Noted Keene, “Patients are willing to spend on higher-end product once they perceive the value for their vision and eye health.”

To help sales, her practice developed a Dry Eye Center and uses digital as well as virtual imaging tools to better educate patients. “We’ve also started to look at the managed care plans we accept and have selectively dropped the ones that do not represent the quality that we feel represents our practice,” Keene said, adding, “Interestingly, we have seen patients willing to stay in the practice even though we are no longer providers for their insurance.”

According to Keene, most practices know the areas in which they need to change. “But, putting those changes into effect did not happen for us until we took two hours per week out of production and focus on staff training and growth.” Customer service training has even taken her staff to the Ritz Carlton for a weekend seminar on giving patients an exceptional experience. “That time dramatically helped us in implementing necessary changes,” Keene said.

OD and President
Cool Springs EyeCare
Franklin, Tennessee

“I have always loved the Robert Frost quote: ‘Our vision in life is to unite, as two eyes make one in sight.”

“We keep a constant drumbeat on improvement,” said Jeff Kegarise, OD, “and a focus on practice goals, mixing innovation and risk with the fundamentals of running a medical/optometric business.” That philosophy has paid off, with the practice expanding to a larger office in 2009.

Kegarise transformed the mentality of his practice, which he purchased, from “the doctor makes all the decisions to a more participative management style where growing our people and managers has been [and continues to be] a focus.”

The doctor also experienced a personal transformation. “I had led and managed a large referral center, but all of my care since completing my residency had been in secondary care or disease management,” he said. “I had to become reacquainted with the more basic primary care clinical practices, like contact lens care and the selection and management of an optical staff.”

This year, the practice formed an educational institute to train its staff, their families, the general public and other eye and healthcare practitioners. “We feel this educational institute will be a good way to share what has worked, and what has not, while allowing our staff to benefit from more rich learning opportunities.”

Walmart Vision Center
Homewood, Alabama

“Provide the highest quality of eyecare at an affordable price. My mission is to exceed the patient’s expectations for both quality of care and affordability.”

Frank LaRussa, OD, has spent much of his career trying to make health care, in particular eyecare, more affordable and convenient. After several years practicing in a Birmingham ophthalmology group and a two-year tenure at VisionAmerica Laser Centers, LaRussa left the corporate world in 1998 and opened a private practice in a Walmart Vision Center in Homewood, Ala. Since then he was named Walmart Regional Optometrist of the Year several times and Walmart National Optometrist of the Year in 2006.

Recent dips in the economy have not detoured him from his goals. “During difficult economic times there are more people who seek quality affordable health care options and thus my business is really thriving.” One of the keys to his success is that he keeps things simple “by looking to my patients, the customers, to see what their true needs and wants are.”

The key to changes in your practice is to ensure changes are not ‘Your’ decisions but ‘Our’ decisions. “We spent almost a year talking about the long-term benefit of converting to EMR. We then tested numerous systems in the office before, and as a team, made a selection. In the end everyone was on board and we made a very seamless transition to EMR.”

VP of Strategic Initiatives/
Optometric Affairs

Lasik Plus/LCA-Vision, Inc.
Maple Grove, Minnesota

“At LasikPlus, we are earning the trust of our patients every moment to build relationships for a lifetime.”  

Having owned and operated his own practice prior to joining LCA-Vision, Jason Schmit, OD, is familiar with the business challenges facing today’s optometrists. As a key executive and advocate for optometrists at Lasik Plus for the past 12 years, he has been instrumental in combining expert business guidance and innovative management for 60 vision centers throughout the U.S.

Despite the economic downturn, LCA-Vision has been poised for growth by improving its core Lasik business. This includes creating the Lasik Plus Partner Network, a management service organization model to help eyecare practitioners with practice management and patient acquisition solutions, surgical co-management, CE and buying group access. “One of our many goals under this initiative included elevating the role of the optometrist within our organization,” Schmit said. To that end, he has developed innovative educational initiatives for ODs, including externships, lecturing, recruiting and training programs.

“Among the factors that I believe sets us apart is out understanding of the key role of optometrists within our business and future success,” concluded Schmit.

Lakeline Vision Source
Austin, Texas

“We want to be the best by ‘wowing’ our patient. Yes is an individual decision; no is a group decision. Today is better than tomorrow. Our culture promotes compassion, teamwork, respect and a positive attitude.”

Laurie Sorrenson, OD, doesn’t shy away from a challenge. During the economic turndown, the practice expanded and remodeled its office space. “We focus on the numbers and have an open book philosophy that keeps staff in the know,” said Sorrenson. “They are aware of the percentages for cost of goods sold, staff costs and overhead expenses. We also benchmark over a dozen metrics in our practice on a weekly and monthly basis.” Thanks to growth that sped up in summer 2010, the practice plans to expand office space yet again.

“I finally figured out if your staff is happy, then it is a lot easier for them to take good care of the patients. Typically, nobody likes change so I let staff know we will try something new for a limited period of time, and at the end of that time, we will re-evaluate. Knowing it isn’t necessarily a permanent change helps keep staff flexible,” Sorrenson explained.

All staffers have AOA Paraoptometric certification and every optician is ABO-certified. The office is closed at least four days annually for education and service training. “We also close every week for an office meeting, which I think is imperative to keeping communications open,” Sorrenson said.