On an online venue for optometrists, a debate rages about VSP’s strategy in the market place. This has become an issue that has presented itself in the forefront as IBM, a major employer of 100,000 or more employees were wooed over to EyeMed, a competing vision care plan. With consternation, VSP doctors all over the country decried either the loss of the contract or the recent move by VSP to include corporate optometry practices in their marketing efforts. Questions have arisen. How will private practice fit into the new VSP scheme? Is private practice viable for the next generation of optometry students?
I don’t believe that anyone can turn back the clock to the 1970-80’s, the heyday of optometric private practice. What has wrought that change has been a combination of information technology, the internet and the new global economic environment.
It’s funny how an industry can spend tons of money trying to resist change, but when change happens, it is apparent that businesses that focused on the status quo for so long are unprepared for what might happen if the clock could not be turned back.
Like it or not, the corporations have created a brand name that is able to convey quality and convenience, something that optometry has struggled to embrace. Instead of easily-understood properties, optometry has focused on “high-quality”, an inherently difficult to measure and value property. Optometry needs to establish a much more definable brand that we all can get behind. I fear that will be difficult because we cannot even agree on the simple things before fractured discord overcomes reason and everything becomes a stand still.
Financially, most private practices have not been efficient in their cost and business structures, hoping to capture market share through investments that are as heavy and weighty as a large boat anchor and contributing little to the bottom line. In an activity-based cost method, it will be surprising how little some of this technology can contribute to the profitability of a practice. The new practice of the future will have to be more judicious in structuring their financial foundation, either through wiser investment of their capital or equity or through stringent cost controls in operations
VSP has a significant hurdle to leap. Its cost of business includes the cost of individual private practices which is not an issue with its competitors. What must happen is a technology shift that can lower the cost of doing business. First, it can include e-commerce which can match the cost and business model of their competitors. Second, its leadership health information technology may facilitate seamless exchange of patient data, a leading measure for future meaningful use with other optometric practices, primary medicine and third party payers. Lastly, VSP requires a brand identity that is more public than it has achieved in the last 10 or 20 years. Only through being a brand can VSP be competitive.
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