Vision Monday — August 15 Vision Monday
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An Office Culture Can’t Be Enforced; It Has To Be Cultivated

Steve Rice, OD, became a partner with Vision Clinic in Springfield, Missouri, in 1989. Dr. Rice is currently the managing partner of the practice that has now grown to four thriving locations. He is also an administrator for Vision Source. Mondottica recently sat with Dr. Rice to ask him about his success.

Q: Has there been one guiding principle that has led to your success?

Dr. Rice: I’m not sure I can identify just one. I’ve always believed that you need to be engaged personally, professionally and clinically to stay on the leading edge. I firmly believe, and often repeat to my staff (and my kids), that you have to embrace change. You can’t look the other way or pretend that change isn’t happening. Another guiding principle is that you have to treat people like you want to be treated. If you’re not honest, people, in any environment where they encounter you, will sense that.

Maybe most importantly, you have to build and cultivate a culture that is real and believable. Dr. Lynn Herndon and I started out as two nice guys checking eyes; we wanted to be progressive, but we wanted our office to be the place where our patients (and staff) wanted to come and know that their decision to trust their eye care with us was a great one. Another part of our culture is to be involved with the community. We do that as individuals, we do that as a practice and we do it wholeheartedly through support for local and worldwide charities. For example, our Vision Clinic/Optometry Giving Sight 5K helped us be one of the single largest private practice donations to Optometry Giving Sight last year.

Q: Is a culture and dedication to service and connections in the community enough to be competitive today?

Dr. Rice: All by itself, no. However, I firmly believe it ties it altogether. Our fees and products are not the least expensive, but that’s not where we compete. We compete on service and experience. To counter the commoditization of eye care and eyewear, we need to keep our focus on our patients. For example, we tell our staff that we are just the conduit to their salary and benefits. Realistically, it’s the patients they serve who pay their salaries. We spend a lot of time reinforcing who we are and what we do. When we hire a new staff member, that person’s first full day is spent learning about our culture, our history, what’s expected from him or her and how we interact with patients. We have staff members take personality tests so that we’re sure we’re placing them in positions where they can shine. In addition, we have discovered that learning how a person is “hardwired” leads to better understanding, communication and overall harmony in the office.

We count on people who are like-minded in the industry. I joined Vision Source and became an administrator because I felt the organization shared my passion for this profession. The vendors we work with need to put people ahead of profits. If I or my staff feels that a vendor’s representative is here just to make a sale, we’re not interested. Vendor representatives, like Mondottica President Phil Turnage, are valuable to us for the relationships and the shared ideas. A representative who comes in and teaches my staff something or reinforces what makes us special is important.

Q: Do these policies carry over to the optical?

Dr. Rice: The optical is an extremely important part of any independent private practice. Managed vision plans have damaged the doctor-patient relationship for a number of reasons. Because the plans have separated the components and assigned prices to each, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “selling” these items as just that. The result is that patients often ask, “What does it cost?” or say, “I just want what my insurance covers.” When Essilor introduced Needs Based Solutions, and then Doctor Directed Processes, we saw those as simple ways to identify lens options by benefits rather than by price. These processes lend themselves to multiple sales because once you have identified the patients’ needs, you can present the options best suited for that patient. My staff members tell me that their “job” is significantly easier when we prescribe for patients what they need to make their lives better. That’s why patients came to see us in the first place.

I encourage doctors not to shy away from the optical. It goes back to embracing change and being willing to be uncomfortable for a bit in order to grow. The optical can be profitable, but if managed improperly, it can be a source of lost income. We monitor our cost of goods and profitability margins on frames and lab costs. We also value employee initiative and knowledge, and we have opticians who fully understand the science and the fashion of optical.

The optical should be fun, just as the work environment should be a good one. We have beautiful products, and we embrace the latest shopping science ideas when we merchandise them. We have taken our Fitting Box virtual frame try-on system to our Vision Clinic day at the ballpark so that people have a chance to experience something new. Our first goal is to help people see well and protect their vision, but after we’ve provided our best care and developed the best solution going forward, why not also make sure that they look their best?