E-commerce trends and impact in eye care identified by experts

Portland 28 April 2000First Insight Corporation, a leading provider of technology-based solutions for eye care practitioners, recently hosted a panel discussion at the International Vision Expo/East in which industry experts addressed the dramatic changes which e-commerce is bringing to the eye care industry. Panel members, representing a variety of industry perspectives, identified the critical success factors and potential benefits of e-commerce for key industry segments. Moderated by Nitin Rai, the president and CEO of First Insight Corporation, the panel included Mr. Burk Lindsey, a vice president in the health care investment banking group of SunTrust Equitable Securities; Mr. Brad Shapiro, the principal partner of C&E Vision Group; Mr. Dennis Benedict, executive vice president of Benedict Optical Lab; and Dr. Jeffrey Calmere, of Silicon Valley Eyecare.

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"The most important value proposition of the Internet is connectivity", stated Mr. Rai in his introduction. First Insight, which provides technology solutions for eye care practitioners, sees tremendous opportunity in using the Internet to help doctors run their practices more effectively. By providing tighter connections between eye care practitioners, their suppliers and their patients, the Internet can help doctors be much more competitive, according to Mr. Rai.

In his remarks regarding prescription labs' use of e-commerce, Mr. Benedict explained that a single-entry system is very critical to the success of any e-commerce venture. When an e-commerce system is integrated with the lab's operating system, practitioners can check order status in real time, orders are more accurate, the staff members spend less time verifying orders with patients because lens parameters are already loaded into the system, and order entry errors are reduced. All of this has a positive impact on service time and economics.

According to Mr. Shapiro, e-commerce gives distributors the opportunity to develop greater efficiencies in their interaction with eye care providers, just as vendors have done with distributors through back-end integration via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Mr. Shapiro argued that distributors are uniquely positioned to serve as the "mortar" for the "clicks and mortar" relationship because the distributors represent multiple suppliers and have close relationships with customers. Eye care providers benefit by being able to order what they want when they want, without incurring multiple shipping charges. E-commerce can also create a better flow of information regarding new products, changes in product parameters, and promotional opportunities, according to Mr. Shapiro.

Mr. Lindsey provided a broader health care investment market perspective, describing how the public and private investors' interest in e-health care ventures has been driven by the convergence of the opportunity for increased efficiency that the Internet offers with the massive inefficiency of the current health and vision care markets. Mr. Lindsey said that eye care providers, in balancing the administrative details associated with both managed care regulations and the retail side of their business, are perhaps the most challenged of all health care providers, in terms of the complexities and administrative tedium of running their practices.

Mr. Lindsey also emphasised that there will never be a complete and total disintermediation in this market space and that "closed platforms are not the answer". E-commerce systems must be able to integrate with practice management systems, lab management systems, and vendors' and distributors' databases in order to provide maximum benefit. Mr. Lindsey further commented that the successful e-commerce companies will be those that save the eye care provider either time or money, and pointed out that efficiency gains are in many respects as important to the practitioners as incremental procurement savings.

Dr. Calmere described the potential benefits of e-commerce and portal site technology from the eye care practitioner's perspective. He expressed the belief that portal site technology will soon move beyond simple e-commerce transactions. "The obvious starting point is ordering contacts, frames, lenses, and supplies, but in the end the connections we make will include banking services, payroll, accounting services, telemedicine, insurance authorisation and claims submission, continuing education, practice management tools, connecting to our patients in a more sophisticated way, and the list goes on and on."

Dr. Calmere argued that the benefits of portal site technology to the doctors include reducing both the time spent submitting orders and the number of data entry errors. From a practice management standpoint, the portal technology offers cost savings, the ability to track orders on-line, the ability to analyse buying history, and Web site-building tools which help the small practices compete on a big scale. Dr. Calmere also pointed out that portal site technology allows practices to maintain the close partner and vendor relationships that are crucial to the success of their businesses.

First Insight Corporation forms the leading provider of technology-based solutions for the $20 billion eye care industry. First Insight's e-commerce solutions, comprehensive practice management software and electronic medical records enable optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians to be far more competitive. First Insight's latest offering, paradEyes.com, is a comprehensive e-commerce system that provides a single point of access for ordering ophthalmic products, services and resources via the Web. Through integration with Optometry.net, paradEyes.com equally gives practices the ability to build professional Web sites quickly and easily, enabling doctors to strengthen relationships with existing patients and market their services to potential new patients.

Since its introduction in 1994, First Insight's practice management solution, maximEyes, has been installed in over 550 eye care practices throughout the United States and Canada. MaximEyes was the first practice management solution for eye care on the Microsoft Windows platform, and was also the first to successfully integrate with the Vision Service Plan's Internet Doctor Communication system (IDC), enabling verification of patient eligibility, claims submission and prescription orders via the Web. Based in Hillsboro, Oregon, First Insight is a pre-public company backed by an investment team which includes Richland Ventures; HLM Partners; Validus, the investment arm of United Healthcare; and Moss Forest Ventures.


Leslie Versweyveld

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