By Becky Wiese
It’s not uncommon for multiple medical practices to be housed in the same building. It’s a little more unusual if all the practices focus on the same medical specialty. What’s really uncommon, however, is the merging of multiple practices, on purpose, with intent, into one practice focused on maintaining at the very minimum the high standards each held for customer service and medical excellence.
That’s exactly what VisionPoint Eye Center has done. Four eye care practices have joined together—not cohabitating in the same building, but literally becoming one large practice.
And it’s working.
VisionPoint opened in August 2019, just over a year after they broke ground to build the 28,000 square foot, $10 million facility. The center boasts 40 exam rooms, a LASIK surgery suite, a conference room, and a break/meeting room that has seating for the almost 100 employees (12 doctors and 86 employees) who attend daily update meetings.
Those daily update meetings have been crucial for the smooth operation of the office, especially early on. As with any major move and change, a lot of transitions had to happen for everything to fall into place.
Even so, the transition has not been without kinks and problems. In fact, “it’s been hard,” says Julie Payne, VisionPoint’s Chief Strategy Officer. “But it’s also been incredible. Everyone looks to be a part of the solution and working through problems has been a team building experience.”
“The attitude has been ‘we’re all in this new situation together,’” she adds. “There has been a lot of patience and grace while working out kinks in the system!”
Proposing an unusual merger
The most common question that arises is “why”—why would four independent, successful eyecare practices, namely, McLean County Eyecare Center, Eye Surgical Associates, Central Illinois Eyecare, and Eyecare Associates, want to join forces to create a new entity? To understand the reasoning, it’s important to consider the factors that came into play.
For example, several of the doctors are looking ahead to retirement “down the road”—so their concern was bringing on another doctor or two to provide continuity to their practice. Several of the practices were also looking at growth issues—they were literally running out of room to examine patients, let alone provide space for another doctor. Even parking was an issue.
“Each practice was independently thinking about the future—and the bottom line was the fact that they felt, for a variety of reasons, that they could not continue in the space they were currently in and still provide the level of care they wanted to provide to their patients,” says Payne. While none of the practices wanted to make a huge leap on its own to build a new facility—economically a difficult endeavor—together they saw the benefits and possibilities of combining forces, kind of a “strength in numbers” idea.
Dr. David Landess, an optometrist, adds, “The creation of this new practice was the result of a perfect storm of growing pains plus the need and desire to keep good staff.” For example, the administrative costs for insurance and benefits continue to be more difficult for small practices to handle. “So when considering what was ‘next’ with future growth, all of the practices felt it was natural to work together.”
Plus, Dr. Landess adds, combining into one practice affords the benefits of “economies of scale” for obtaining and affording cutting-edge technology and inventory, not to mention the staff. “We decided from the beginning that we would not cut staff. With a larger practice, we can provide for our staff more competitively with insurance and benefits. That trickles down to better patient care: if we take good care of our staff, turnover decreases, affording a better patient experience. We now retain staff with more than 20 years of experience, and that’s ultimately best for patients.”
Dr. Scott Pinter, an ophthalmologist, agrees, and adds, “Bringing optometrists and ophthalmologists together is very beneficial to patients because it eliminates the transitions between practices. Everyone is already all on the same page, so it saves time and allows for more efficient and effective care.”
Building an intentional foundation from the beginning
Even in the early stages of planning, it became quite clear that each of the practices held to the same basic core values, making vision casting and planning much easier. Those core values focus on patients, medical care, and teamwork. The core values were fine-tuned and now dictate every action within the VisionPoint facility.
“Our core values are to put the patient first—providing world-class service every day to every patient; to use medical excellence—offering the most advanced routine and diagnostic care and treatment in the fields of Ophthalmology, Optometry, and Optical Care; and to work as a team—succeeding because our staff and physicians intentionally work together well as a team,” explains Payne.
Providing the best service and experience for patients is more than just an efficient office visit: any problem a patient has related to their eye care or eye health becomes a priority—a value that translated from the small practices to the large practice.
Additionally, the building itself is designed for patient comfort and convenience, from the large parking lot with a covered entry to the comfortable seating, natural light, free guest Wi-Fi, and beverage station in the Welcome Center (not the “lobby” or “waiting area”).
“The building’s design utilizes an extreme focus on how the space speaks to people; it’s designed with patients in mind,” says Payne. The décor, lighting, background music—everything about the ambiance—conveys an inviting, comfortable feeling. “It definitely does not feel clinical or cold!” she adds. Dr. Landess agrees, saying, “The attention to detail in building reflects the attention to detail for care—it’s all about the patient.”
But the design is not just about the décor. “The building is beautiful esthetically,” says Dr. Pinter. “But it is also designed in a thoughtful, efficient way for the flow of patient care. And, there is space to expand when the need arises.” Dr. Pinter also believes the atmosphere and strategic design of the facility will “help with recruiting new doctors to the area.”
The four practices also had medical excellence as a common value. Not only were they focused on improving patients’ vision, but they had a true concern for the health of the eye and the prevention of problems by early diagnosis and intervention. A huge benefit to being in the same facility is the combination of primary care by the optometrists and secondary, or specialty, care by the ophthalmologists.
The physicians can collaborate very easily with face-to-face interactions, spur-of-the-moment consults, and immediate feedback. And, according to Dr. Pinter, “collaborative care is more fun, more fulfilling. The one-on-one interaction with other caregivers is very beneficial.”
Another benefit to having a larger practice is the ability to more easily invest in state-of-the-art equipment. “Eye care is driven by technology,” explains Dr. Pinter. “VisionPoint has up-to-date technology to provide the best care both diagnostically and therapeutically.” Case in point is the onsite LASIK suite which offers patients a seamless experience.
Finally, as a large practice, VisionPoint can now provide an optometrist dedicated to urgent care for eye injuries every day. Rather than going to the emergency department at a hospital, a patient with an eye injury can simply call VisionPoint to see the on-call optometrist.
The idea of teamwork has many facets at VisionPoint. Even in the early stages of the process, the idea that this was a new “team,” and everyone needed to be a team player was stressed; there would be no “us” and “them” because everyone would need to do their part to make the effort succeed.
But it wasn’t going to happen without some strategic planning.
“Bringing the staff together, from four small families into one big family, was going to be a big job, so while the building was still under construction, before we were housed in the same facility, we offered several volunteer activities as an organization in an effort to let everyone get to know each other in a casual, fun setting,” says Payne. For example, in 2018, they helped at the Midwest Food Bank and did Operation Santa together.
It was a good strategy, since the staff is now all interdependent with each other and with the doctors. “I feel blessed to work with the people from the other practices—we blend together very well,” says Dr. Landess.
Another facet of teamwork is the professional responsibilities and opportunities afforded to the current staff. The practice sees about 250 patients every day and staff does much of the diagnostic testing. They obtain accurate information through a variety of tests and document it so that the doctor can get the whole picture of the patient’s eye health.
“Our staff is highly trained and do what they do really well, which allows the physicians to concentrate on what they do really well,” explains Payne. “We have a well-trained, qualified support staff that prepares the patient’s information for the doctor’s exam.”
Along with the optometry and ophthalmology practices, VisionPoint also combined and expanded the optical departments of the four practices into one, now called 1107 Optique. The range of eyewear includes a wide spectrum of frames, styles, and makers, “everything from simple to sensational,” says Payne. The space itself is chic and sophisticated, and because of the larger scale, they are able to offer the best in quality, service, and price. Patients are assisted by trained opticians who can fit eyewear correctly for their prescription and the patient’s unique facial features and lifestyle.
The combination of four practices into one large practice at VisionPoint has been accomplished by thoughtful and strategic planning, along with a lot of grace and patience. “We understand bigger isn’t always better,” says Dr. Landess. “To us, relationship with patients is still the number one priority.”
What VisionPoint offers in terms of “bigger” (such as economies of scale and efficiency) is combined with the deliberate focus on the patient experience (comfortable surroundings and personalized care), resulting in a better experience and outcome. Overall, it’s a benefit to the community.
VisionPoint Eye Center is located at 1107 Airport Road in Bloomington. For more information, call 309-662-7700 or search visionpointeye.com.