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ODs Seek Alliances and Buying Groups To Cope With Business Challenges

This article originally appeared in Vision Monday. To see the full list of alliances highlighted please visit the original article.

Navigating an uncharted sea of changes— health care reform, managed vision care, online retailing, corporate competition—all impacting the existing challenges of running an independent optical business, ECPs are looking to align themselves in groups that can provide them with a competitive edge. According to The Vision Council 2013 Buying Group/Independent Practice Alliance Report, currently 41 percent of respondents in a study conducted in August of last year belong to one buying group or ECP alliance and 29.2 percent of respondents belong to more than one buying group or alliance. The study also indicated that reliance on buying groups/alliances is on the increase. More than a third (35.5 percent) indicated that they were relying on buying groups/alliances more than one year prior to the study, and 36.2 percent said that they would be relying on buying groups/alliances more over the 12 months following the study. At the same time, the confusion of health care reform and its alphabet soup of acronyms—the Affordable Care Act (ACA), accountable care organizations (ACO), electronic health records (EHR), ICD-10, and more—are leading ECPs to seek guidance from these alliances and buying groups as well. As a result, ECP alliances are expanding their educational opportunities while some buying groups are becoming hybrid organizations as they also add services to their discounts and rebates. By adding business management services such as meetings and education, some buying groups are beginning to look more like alliances. Similarly, by adding "preferred" and "advantage" discount/rebate programs, alliances are fine-tuning the purchasing portion of their services. Amidst all this change and growth, some of the executives of ECP alliances and buying groups who Vision Monday interviewed for this article predict that the involvement of private equity and investment firms into this sector of the U.S. market might accelerate both the pace of expansion and the rate of consolidation among groups, which might eventually shrink the number of options down to just a few, even larger groups. Members of the various groups detailed in-depth on the following pages told Vision Monday some of the most important questions an ECP should ask when joining a buying group or an alliance: What is the time period of the agreement and is there a contract? What are all the fees, percentage payments, if any? What is the return on investment? Do the profits go back to the group or to the owners/directors? Are the owners/directors practicing ODs? Is ordering/billing centralized and consolidated through the group, or do I have to do it on my own? Who are the other members of the group, are their practices similar to mine, are they competitors, and where are they located? What virtual training, real-time education, CE, networking meetings and other events (national, regional and local) are available? What vendor/supplier partners is the group aligned with? What product mix/selection is available? How deep are the discounts and rebates? With these questions in mind (plus those of your own you'd like to have answered) review the following descriptions of 19 different ECP alliances and buying groups to determine which would be the best fit for your practice.

Opti-Port | Founded 2001

Executives: Jim Edwards, president/CEO/owner. Model: National alliance of multi-office eyecare providers that offers its member companies tools to save money and grow their businesses. Taking an overall business approach, Opti-Port offers members everything from group purchasing to educational conferences, training, marketing programs and an advanced web technology platform, all available with membership. Members: Over 500 office locations – A typical Opti-Port Advantage member is an eyecare practice with between five and 50 locations, focused on growth and looking for innovative ways to address the changing dynamics in our marketplace. Programs: Once members commit to a minimum level of purchases, they have access to a host of programs and services, including Opti-Port's conference series, business services, consulting partners, and its proprietary CLX Contact Lens Management Portal. Membership also links them to a network of the industry's multi-office operators, all ready to share ideas. Opti-Port helps members leverage their local market presence and relationships, while taking advantage of the economies of group purchasing power. Opti-Port is also a partner of the First Look Vision Network, a third-party vision care network designed specifically to help independent doctors of optometry in community-based practices. Managed vision care has been a focus for Opti-Port since its inception over 12 years ago. In response to the ACA, programs for members are being expanded. Events: Opti-Port's 2014 event calendar includes a total of five conferences and numerous webinars. The SPARK conferences at Vision Expo East and West share best practices, new ideas and opportunities to network with other industry leaders. Opti-Port's Eye Care University launched this year in partnership with the Bell Leadership Institute. With sessions held both in the spring and fall, this exclusive program helps members build and develop leaders within their organizations. The third annual Managing Managed Care Conference will bring together executives and insurance managers for a two-day program to focus on health care reform, management best practices and specifics related to key managed vision care plans. Breakout sessions and expert speakers to provide updates and best practices related to managed vision care. Contact:, (314) 743-0781


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