Meet Bryan Pinciaro. At the marketing helm of Vision Source®, a 3300+ location national franchise brand of optometry centers created in 1991 to preserve the art of independent optometric practices against large-brand retail optometry. Believing the relationship between doctor and patient is sacred, eye health is a cornerstone to total health and staying true to their mission of ‘Enriching lives by enabling independent optometrists to reach their full potential’, the Vision Source® franchise system has grown to be the 2nd largest single brand of optometry services and the category leader by total sales volume and number of locations in North America. Despite this industry leading status, and serving over 14 million patients in 2015, Vision Source® is changing their market approach. Entirely. In this edition of CMO Outlook, Bryan Pinciaro takes us through the impetus and machinations behind Vision Source®’s aim to assert itself in the evolving patient care continuum, providing a vital link to an industry in constant transformation.
CMOO: Tell us about Vision Source®. How did it start, how are you structured and how do you operate?
BP: “The genesis of Vision Source® was to band independent optometrists together, leveraging that cohesion as an opportunity to market together and use the collective buying power of the group to negotiate better cost of goods from manufacturers. The primary purpose was to allow the field of independent optometry to thrive in the face of large branded retail optometry picking off local independent practices. At the time, it was decided Vision Source® was to be structured as a legal franchise to ensure we were in compliance with any regulations with respect to independent distribution networks. It was done more for the abundance of caution as opposed to a unified way of operating, unified brand or a unified customer experience as in most business format franchises. Over the years the franchise construct proved to be an extremely valuable platform. The need for Vision Source® to act as one team and unify our outlook on the optimal care for the patient and the preservation of their relationship with a properly educated, trained and licensed independent Doctor of Optometry became more and more obvious. Today, our franchise model is absolutely critical to our industry leading position and ability to move into the next phase of our growth.
CMOO: You’ve just completed five years at Vision Source® and bring with you a firm tenure in healthcare marketing. What is your next phase of growth? And why now?
BP: “Five years ago, the initial focus was to really amplify the Vision Source® brand and unify our Vision Source® community around a common outlook. Being in healthcare for so many years, you get a front line view of just how radically the healthcare industry changes. As we were galvanizing our brand we also saw the need to align ourselves more closely with how healthcare was changing, accelerated by the ACA. Healthcare is changing right in front of us. Playing out in people’s lives. In the headlines. In our independent Member Doctors’ offices. From our vantage point, we could see it. Healthcare is one of the few industries where there are so many parties vying for their point of view, with regulators at the center of it. At the end of the day, the patient needs the best care they can get, costs need to be brought under control, businesses need to be healthy, our Members need to thrive and everyone needs more transparency. To be true to our mission, we were compelled to act. More specifically, we saw a way Vision Source® can use the unique abilities of our vast franchise network and market position to impact the overall health of the patient, reduce total healthcare costs, increase transparency and drive more patients to our Members. So, the answer is really ‘why wouldn’t we?’
CMOO: What are some of the market forces at play?
BP: “Without getting into a detailed history of how the healthcare system has evolved in the U.S., there are several macro trends. The first is large scale epidemic diseases like diabetes. There’s about 29 million people in the U.S. right now with diabetes according to the CDC1. If we include the 86 million people age 20 and older who are prediabetic2 that brings the total over 100 million people in the U.S., or roughly one out of every three men, women and children. That is a staggering number. Costs associated with addressing this incurable, but treatable and, in certain instances, preventable disease puts tremendous pressure on health care system resources in various ways. Not to mention impacts on a patient’s quality of life, longevity, family finances and resources. It’s such a global issue that the World Health Organization’s theme for ‘World Health Day 2016’ was ‘Beat Diabetes’3. At the same time, the healthcare system has been reorganizing itself into Integrated Health Systems and Accountable Care Organizations who have the dual mission of being accountable for the overall health of a given population and reducing overall healthcare costs. At the center of this are regulators who are requiring provisions for evaluating the quality of health care through health plan evaluations and scoring on abilities to affect health outcomes and treatment quality (NCQA’s HEDIS Scores) and the associated Physician quality scoring (PQRS) which affects medical reimbursement rates. Along with the expansion of programs like Medicaid you have an active business climate…which might be the understatement of the century.”
CMOO: What does this mean to Vision Source®?
BP: “The eye, eye health, and the right kind of innovative and comprehensive eye exam is the window into evaluating a patient’s total health, including early detection of diabetes. The doctor, through the eye exam, can see and evaluate the total health of the patient. As independent Doctors of Optometry our Members can provide exams that can detect and evaluate, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol among other serious diseases both present and developing. With all this information we can complete the information gap with the patient and PCP for further treatment, prevention or adherence to currently prescribed therapeutic regimens.”
CMOO: That’s a powerful insight.
BP: “It’s more than that. It puts Vision Source® and our members squarely at the center of what this entire system is looking for. Improved health outcomes, reductions in total healthcare costs, improved patient health, more transparent healthcare information and an ability to positively affect HEDIS and PQRS scores. The macro industry forces drove the market to us. Given our number of doctors, locations and unity, we’re the only system of the kind who can be a critical, large scale connective link between these groups.”
CMOO: Tell us how this works.
BP: “Driving patient traffic in a ‘retail’ way was no longer how this industry works. We had to get our heads around improving our B to B marketing focus. I say refocusing because early in our history, Vision Source® was always about connecting with independent Optometrists. We still are, but as the system grew and optometry was going through its own changes, the needs of the Optometrist changed. We had to provide support in more comprehensive ways. Marketing being one of them. Overall practice management another. This is just another step in that evolution. Albeit a large one.”
CMOO: So who is your customer now?
BP: “After our Members offering exceptional consumer experiences in our locations, it’s Integrated healthcare systems. Large, regional and national healthcare centers who provide vertically integrated health care services. They are responsible for the health outcomes of populations under their footprint and reducing costs of producing those outcomes. The key to accomplishing this is prevention. We have successfully shown IHC’s having Vision Source® as their preferred eye care provider is completely in line with their mission as an organization. And because of our expertise, branded locations, staff training, certification programs and thousands of distribution points, we can meet their large scale needs and the individual patient needs through the care of thoroughly trained, committed independent Doctors of Optometry. As well, we can complete the information loop by providing our findings and actionable information to PCPs and the IHC regarding the health state of the patient. So far, we have dozens of active relationships and over 175 in the pipeline being finalized.”
CMOO: How have your Independent Member Doctors responded? I mean, this is big business stuff. Your Members are used to seeing patients. How has the transition been?
BP: “They see it. (No pun intended.) They see it all changing like we do. Even more so as they are on the front lines. It’s harder to acquire customers, reimbursement rates are going down. They’ve been working hard to bring home the same or less. Competitive pressures are fierce and patient engagement more and more elusive. You can even get an eye exam online these days! (Not a real one, btw.) From our vantage point, we were in a position to do something about it and our Members were right there with us because of our evolved relationship. Yes – they have to learn new skills like business development and relationship building. Yes – they have to shift some priorities and take on new functions. But, we both knew something had to change and change radically for their benefit and to compete better for years to come.”
CMOO: What about competition? Have they taken notice or responded?
BP: “There are buying groups out there who are more like who Vision Source® was when we started. Collect independent optometrists together to negotiate lower cost of goods with manufacturers, like frames and lenses. Many of them have stayed true to that vision. We have tremendous buying power as well, probably among the best on the continent, but we’ve evolved our relationships with our Members and focused, at least since I’ve been here, to operate as a unified brand. That is a unified way of doing business and a unified outlook on what vision care is and how the patient should be treated. Of our 3400+ locations, 1,800 and counting are branded Vision Source® locations. It’s because of this evolved relationship and brand unification that we can approach a large system about the value we provide…and back it up. I don’t think others can have those same conversations. There’s also more retail based eye exam places who don’t have the health care focus. So there’s competition, certainly, but we are in a very unique position to provide services to these groups in a way no other entity can and our consumers can find us easier.
CMOO: It would seem Vision Source®’s health care orientation would create interesting opportunities for market engagement?
BP: “Without question. We’re involved with World Sight Day, an annual challenge by Optometry Giving Sight. More than 600 million people around the world are blind or vision impaired because they do not have access to the eye examinations and glasses they need. The OGS mission is about enriching lives to change that statistic. Since 2006, Vision Source has designated OGS as our charity of choice and our Members are very active in the organization’s leadership and support of optometry development projects. Haiti, one of the most impoverished countries in the Northern Hemisphere, has a severe medical scarcity: from an eye care perspective, there are only 9 doctors in the public sector there to service a country of 10 million. Proudly, in 2015, the Vision Source network contributed over $1 million in donations and volunteer hours to support a new Optometry School in Haiti. We are honored to support OGS and optometry development projects.”
CMOO: What’s next?
BP: “We will continue to lead. Continue to disrupt. And fiercely live out our mission to help our Independent Optometrists reach their full potential. We have a new partnership with Essilor and with the additional resources and relationships can only see our Members and their patients benefiting further. It’s an exciting time to be part of a brand that is having such an impact on our nation’s health.”