Observations from the Town-Hall Meetings

By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO June 30, 2011

Hi again. Needless to say, change is upon us. Whether it be my hairline, the economy, or my distance off the tee, all are being tested. Change is also upon us in our optometric practices with a down economy, stronger competition, and increasing purchasing online, to name a few. So, it should come as no surprise that VSP must employ new tactics for it to continue to win contracts and direct patients to private practice.

I remember when I first started picking strawberries as a youngster. On the strawberry farm, we were paid by the pound. My first idea was to grab a small container so I could fill it faster. The problem was that I was constantly going back to the truck to empty my bowl and wasn’t spending enough time picking. I needed a new tactic. I needed a bigger container. My mission had not changed, I still needed to pick as many berries as I could to maximize my pay, but I needed to change my approach for better results.

No doubt, you may have observed some of the market-based adjustments in strategy which VSP is now employing. Rest assured, however, the mission of VSP has not changed. VSP directs a far higher percentage of patients to private practice when it wins a contract than when competitors win. What has changed, however, are the needs of VSP’s customer, the benefit manager, who must be satisfied in order for VSP to even be considered in a bid process.

VSP has begun a series of town-hall meetings across the country to better define the marketplace and to explain these strategic adjustments. The purpose of these meetings is to have a productive dialogue and information exchange with doctors. Knowledge is king and VSP wants to be forthright in describing its actions. Doctors should feel great about the steadfast effort of VSP to support private practice and keep member doctors informed.

A few observations have emerged from these town-hall meetings. First of all, I have had a great opportunity to meet some fantastic doctors and learn about their unique practice challenges. VSP has also learned a great deal as doctors describe their practices and give their views. Likewise, doctors have gained a better understanding of the eyecare marketplace and the unique challenges which VSP faces when advocating on their behalf. It has certainly been encouraging for doctors to be reminded that VSP is committed to their long-term success. VSP must continue to win, for doctors to win. The collective synergy between VSP and private practice has reminded us all that we are strongest when we work together.

Private-practice optometry is a fantastic mode of practice. It allows us opportunity to focus on patients without interference. It is characterized by excellent doctors who provide exceptional patient care. And guess what, we doctors even like each other.

Now, combine that with VSP, a not-for-profit, community-benefit organization that has no owners or stockholders and that is focused solely on helping private practice succeed. The result is a formidable alliance. I believe the partnership between VSP and private practice should give us an optimistic view of the future as we face our challenges together.

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