MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich.—When dba caught up with executives from Henry Ford OptimEyes last month when the optical group was named Regional Retailer of the Year at the 19th annual Transitions Academy in Orlando (see below), dba learned that the company has grown from 17 to 19 locations since March of 2013 (see “Optical Group Flourishes After Merger With Major Health System”). While some of that growth and some strategic relocations were planned, one new high profile location in downtown Detroit came along unexpectedly.

“We feel excited about being in Detroit again,” said marketing director, Katie Darr, referring to the new Henry Ford OptimEyes’ location in the atrium of downtown Detroit’s famed GM Renaissance Center. This brings the company’s total number of locations in Detroit proper to three.

Unexpected Growth in Downtown Detroit
Affectionately known as Ren Center, the waterfront building that Henry Ford OptimEyes moved into in April 2014 is managed by CBRE, which had decided to do something to help reverse Detroit’s well publicized economic challenges by bringing residents back to the community. A survey determined that eyecare was among the top responses when people were asked what it would take to get people to work, live and play in Detroit.

After doing some mystery shopping, building management company CBRE decided to contact Henry Ford OptimEyes out of the blue to ask the regional optical group to open a location in the space formerly leased by a jewelry store in the atrium of Ren Center.

“There was this awesome space, second level from the entrance that you come into from the atrium. It’s all open glass, so it was gorgeous, perfect for displaying frames,” Darr told dba. “So we went forward with it, and we’ve been very happy with the growth.”

Growth Formula: Satellites into Super Vision Centers
Meanwhile, the company was already in the middle of doing a major remodel and 3,500-square-foot expansion of its Westland Super Vision Center. “That was what was already on the books,” said Darr of the expansion before the Ren Center opening took them by surprise.

Westland is one of seven Super Vision Centers, which are open seven days a week, offer both optometry and ophthalmology, include an edging and surfacing lab, and feature 3,500 frames on the retail floor. The remaining 12 locations are what the company calls satellite offices.

Different than Super Vision Centers, satellite offices are much smaller locations, typically with just one optometrist, and open only Monday through Saturday. A group of smaller satellite offices will feed into a larger nearby Super Vision Center. For example, if a patient can’t make it during the satellite office’s hours or needs to be referred to an ophthalmologist, they’ll be sent to a Super Vision Center in the vicinity.

Henry Ford OptimEyes includes these Super Vision Centers as a part of its formula for growth. When a group of satellite offices in a particular area become so busy that they are “bursting at the seams,” said Darr, the company opens a Super Vision Center nearby to consolidate them into one facility.

Even the move into a Super Vision Center is formulaic. Darr described the system for moving when satellite offices are consolidated into Super Vision Centers: “We shut down the satellite offices on Friday and move in on Saturday so that we are ready for ‘friends and family’ day on Sunday.” This is when the staff provides free exams and discounted products to “friends and family” in order to test out the layout and organization of the new facility in preparation for a Monday opening. “Who better to practice on than friends and family; they’re forgiving,” said Darr. “We do that on Sunday and then open for business on Monday. It’s a system.”

In some cases entire Super Vision Centers are moved for strategic reasons as well, such as moving the Lakeside Super Vision Center a mile down the street the weekend before Thanksgiving of 2014. Darr describes the new location at Hall Road and Shoenherr as “the busiest thoroughfare in Michigan.” After the move, the location quickly moved up the ranks from the sixth to the third highest revenue generator.

Henry Ford OptimEyes has also already broken ground on a new Super Vision Center location in Southfield that is expected to be up and running in June. Currently, Henry Ford OptimEyes ranks as 17th in Vision Monday‘s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers.

Efficiency with Electronic Health Records
In addition to growth through physical expansion, Henry Ford OptimEyes has also implemented the meaningful use of ExamWriter electronic health records, along with Acuity Logic software to manage the retail side. Of course, implementing electronic health records came with its own growing pains. “There is certainly a learning curve. In the beginning six months we literally had to cut our books in half. We could not keep up with the patient flow,” said general manager Toni Herron.

This dark cloud did have a silver lining, however, because not only was the optical group able to implement EHRs in all of its locations, but doing so also encouraged them to improve their time management.

“That’s where time management all started,” said Darr. “We were behind. Everybody was learning every step of the way, so it was taking that much longer, and people were in the office for way over an hour.” The goal was to move patients through the whole process from the time they entered to the time they left within an hour.

Another challenge was to make sure that doctors continued paying attention to patients while using the EHR system. “We had to focus on how we were to have the doctors do the electronic health records but also still interact with the patient and feel like they were giving them 100 percent attention,” said Herron. “We did consider scribes but chose not to go that route. We put a lot more emphasis on our technicians, so they are doing a lot more preliminary testing and setting everything up for the doctor. That definitely helped.”

Now, even those who thought they would not make it past the learning curve “would not go back on paper,” said Herron, and time management is under control.

Further efficiencies have resulted by partnering with 4PatientCare to remind patients of their appointments by voice, text or email. “We’ve seen our no-show rate decline as a result,” said Herron. “That was a learning curve as well, to trust that the message was getting to the right patient and that they were going to show.”

Eyeglass dispensing is also automated. “Just scan their work ticket, and it gives them an automated call.” Dispensing 80 to 100 glasses per day in one location, “We’re not making 100 phone calls a day just to say, ‘Your glasses are in,'” said Herron. All of this automation frees up staff time for more important matters, such as “more one-on-one patient care versus sitting on the phone for literally hours.”

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