Working in and Owning Practices Are Quite Different, OD Finds

Keeping staff, infrastructure and Vision Source® membership have helped transition go smoothly

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For five years, Jean Barden, OD, worked in two of the four practices owned by another doctor. When he presented her with the opportunity to buy two of them, it was exactly what she was looking for. It was one of those win/win situations, as the practices he wanted to sell, in Vassar and Marlette, Michigan, were the ones that were furthest from his main office—but closer to her home.

The doctor was a Vision Source® member, and he strongly encouraged Dr. Barden to stay in the network. “He realized the importance of the level of support that the network gives to private practitioners,” she says.

At the end of February 2016, the deal was finalized, and Dr. Barden became the owner officially of Greater Thumb Eyecare. She kept much of the staff and infrastructure in place, and her former employer’s office manager even helped her become credentialed independently and train the new office manager. “Being able to carry over some of the staff and the systems made the transition so much easier,” she says, particularly as she began to realize the intricacies that are part of ownership.

“I outsourced the billing. That has helped all of us focus on patients who are in the office. I am trying to utilize the Vision Source contacts and deals that will make me more efficient and profitable,” she says. Even before she owned the practices, however, she said she had somewhat of an owner’s mindset. “My employer had given me a lot of independence in the way I practice. I was used to having a certain amount of control over this practice, and I had some management responsibilities here,” she says.

Still, it was different when the locations actually became hers. Her schedule didn’t really change; she’s still the solo OD, splitting her time between the two locations. But the acquisition rooted the family even more to her hometown; her husband has a business in town, and the couple has small children.

She has also taken on the full weight of ownership, one that she welcomes but which is still becoming clear to her. “After having it for a few months, I realized that I was almost constantly thinking about I was going to deal with them,” she says. Even as she had felt previously like it was “her practice,” the difference in actually being solely responsible for its success was a whole new feeling.

She set out to learn more about Vision Source as one of her first steps. “I knew that there were discounts, but I didn’t know much more,” she says. Those cost-of-goods savings came in handy when she added an OCT unit, retinal camera and edger, she says. But beyond that, she says, “my employer had told me that the value of being a member was that it gave independent doctors a stronger voice,” she says. She learned more about support networks as well as the direct benefits of membership in special programs and pricing.

For example, she signed up to participate in The Optical DreamSM, a Vision Source-supported program that incentivizes staff members to promote comprehensive options for patients in contact lens and eyeglasses offerings. Because it’s organized through Vision Source, she doesn’t have to try to manage this program herself. “Staff members seem to like it, and it’s helpful in keeping them focused. We save the prize money so that we can do something together, so it becomes a full-office program,” she says.

Dr. Barden recently hosted a grand reopening ceremony in Marlette; Chamber of Commerce members came to the ribbon cutting revealing the facelift she had given the practice with a repainting and new flooring.

She realizes that the investments she makes in the practice now to sustain its growth will help her in the future, where she envisions having another doctor work in these locations and perhaps even expanding beyond the existing space. Now that she owns the practices, she can dream big.