Picture a marketplace and maybe the image that comes to mind is the neighborhood mom and pop that’s convenient and friendly but may not offer the best selection or pricing.

On the other end of the spectrum is the exclusively online, impersonal, global marketplace where ordering from a vendor across the world makes more sense to some buyers than shopping locally.

The next-generation marketplace that Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA) has built resembles neither of these but does pull from the best of all marketplace traditions. The next-generation marketplace is an adaptable, versatile resource with a personal touch that provides independent eye care professionals (IECPs) with a single-source partner for purchasing and business solutions. With the competitive strength of a heavyweight brand, it offers access to great programs, products and pricing on a national level, while still delivering the personal service of business owners who could be your neighbors.

In 2019, HEA stepped onto the scene in a highly public way to bring independent eye care professionals greater access, more products and solutions to help their businesses thrive.

HEA does this, as CEO Jim McGrann notes in his column, by working with established and emerging solution providers that offer or are developing a wide range of products and services to boost practice productivity, enhance vision care and engage more effectively with patients. HEA’s next generation marketplace creates connections between IECPs, vendors, professional organizations and the most progressive thinkers in the industry. It incorporates areas of ocular health, such as children’s vision, which are important to public health and to the growth of businesses alike.

Connecting Suppliers And IECPs

The HEA next-generation marketplace provides IECPs vast choice in their product offerings. That’s one of the primary differences between HEA and doctor alliances, says HEA’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Josh Mesirow. What has been most exciting to him in the past year is seeing how HEA has been able to leverage the regional strengths of the groups that combined to create HEA into a national powerhouse.

Mesirow says that industry suppliers increasingly recognize the value that HEA brings to them as they seek to more efficiently communicate with and effectively educate IECPs. A company with HEA’s size and collective experience also brings more infrastructure support and more strategic opportunities to its members and vendor partners alike.

Certainly, these offerings appeal to members who are new to HEA, says Mesirow, but the company’s major focus is on improving services for its existing members, many who have been loyal to their regional legacy group for years. “With our newer and improved programs delivering even better pricing and rebates, we know that we are enhancing our members’ frame, contact lens and lab profitability and competitiveness.”

Plan Nationally, Support Regionally

HEA is a committed and active supporter of independent eye care and partners with professional associations in 18 states. As the preferred purchasing and practice solutions partner, a portion of HEA’s revenue in each of these states is given back to the association. To date, Healthy Eyes Advantage has contributed more than $12 million in non-dues revenue support.

That shows the power of community, according to James Kirchner, OD, HEA’s Executive Consultant for State and Professional Relations, who says that association representatives are increasingly seeing how HEA is helping their organizations support IECPs through the pillars of technology, communications and excellent discounts from more than 200 vendors, all with no membership fee. “We bring together resources, and the package that HEA delivers to its members continues to become more robust and powerful.”

Representatives from several of these organizations agree that the relationship is just beginning and is bound to grow stronger. Bill Howe, the Executive Director of the California Optometric Association (COA) says, “HEA and its predecessors have been champion supporters and very much involved in the programs and services that we bring to optometry.”

He notes that it’s in the two organizations’ mutual interest “to equip our members to best care for patients and to assist them in sustaining and growing their eye care practices.” HEA’s contribution is significant with its financial support of a number of educational programs, such as the Monterey Symposium, for which HEA is a sponsor and a participant.

HEA’s promotion of its own and other educational opportunities is also helpful. “California has more ODs than any other state, and each doctor needs about 50 hours of education every two years,” Howe says. “We look at the education that HEA supports as complementary to what we do. We’re all here to serve the profession and, ultimately, the patients.”

Meeting Changing Needs Of Members

Howard Cooper, Executive Director at the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP) notes that HEA has been very visible in his state as well. “We have connected several times to gain perspective on what we’re looking for in terms of member benefits and how HEA programs might help. HEA has also been in attendance at the NJSOP’s largest events to connect with members and get feedback directly.”

Cooper says that it’s helpful to have organizations such as HEA identifying possible solutions to the challenges that groups like his face: shifts in demographics, practice modalities and services that today’s IECPs want. “We need to be able to provide our members with a range of benefits, whether they’re in private practice or employed situations or working part time or full time. We have evolved from having most of our members in private practice to having more members working in varying settings. So we have to make sure we have something for everyone – or can work with organizations like HEA who can provide those solutions for us.”

As IECPs look ahead to 2020, McGrann suggests conducting a careful examination of all business partnerships. Are there opportunities to achieve practice growth by introducing innovative new products or business strategies to increase patient engagement or enhance workflow efficiency? HEA’s Solutions Specialists stand ready to facilitate this process with member business reviews in which they analyze IECP purchasing data and other practice information to look for opportunities to increase profitability and enhance productivity. These reviews can help uncover greater savings and efficiencies, as well as new strategic business solutions. HEA members can schedule a business review by calling 800-959-2020.