During a Pandemic, Data and Analytics Rise to the Occasion

ECPs Dig Deeper into Data Analysis and Dashboard Tools


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NEW YORK—Battling the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020, ECPs and optical professionals have tried to pull out all the stops to manage their businesses effectively and to operate under some of the new restrictions related to social distancing and capacity limits. During this time, most professionals have turned to data and analytics as a way to tackle these new business challenges and look for ways to guide their decision-making

Data has become an invaluable resource for practitioners, and a key ingredient for appropriate planning and analyzing practice performance. Data also provides a critical yardstick for measuring success across a variety of metrics. The best dashboards—in any business sector—enable a practitioner to visualize business performance with easy-to-access and scan graphics that summarize key operating metrics of the practice, on both the exam or dispensary side. It’s truly an indispensable strategic tool for many ECPs today.

One thing that was acknowledged before the pandemic hit—and which rings even truer today—is that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” as Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA) executive vice president, professional services, Justin L. Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO, told Vision Monday. “This is true of all eyecare practices, and the COVID pandemic has made this reality that much more important,” he said. “To rebound from the COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year, practices are searching for and must take advantage of every opportunity to drive practice recovery and growth. It is imperative that business owners take the time to review their current practice performance and make informed decisions about how best to accelerate their recovery and solidify future performance.”

For example, Manning said, a practice may think their second pair eyewear sales are strong or that they’re billing appropriately for medical visits, but only a careful review of business analytics will leave no doubt if that’s the case. “It may just point to a critical opportunity for improvement. It is now more important than ever that no stone be left unturned in assessing practice results.”

“When COVID hit, no one knew how bad it was or how bad it was going to get. Nobody knew how long it was going to last or [how long it was going to take to come back],” added C. Edward “Ed” Buffington, president and chief executive at GPN Technologies, which offers the EDGEPro dashboard. “I think data became critically important [to watch the business go down], but more importantly to watch it come back.”

He added, “Prior to COVID, I don’t know if anybody was paying quite as much attention [but during the shutdown] they had plenty of time, so everyone was online doing research. The awareness factor has dramatically heightened over the last six to eight months.”

CareCredit is offering a new interactive dashboard that lets ECPs put in their own data and calculate variations in such important productivity measurements as capture rates, average tickets and Rx eyewear volume.

More Than Just Data
ABB Optical Group’s Erika Jurrens, senior vice president of strategy and commercialization, said she believes there is growing interest among ECPs in accessing the data, but it’s even more important to interpret and act upon this data once it’s viewed. “We have seen a dramatic increase both in what people want and what they are consuming,” she noted, adding that ABB Optical has seen “triple and quadruple growth” year-over-year in data utilization by its customers. (ABB Optical offers optical professionals its ABB Analyze, Powered by Glimpse dashboard and ABB Verify for ECPs to work with patients and their managed vision plans.)

“We are seeing people leverage the data and access the data in a way that they never have before,” she said. “That’s when you know you are winning, when people are using the data and not just subscribing [to receive it].”

As the pandemic intensified earlier this year, ABB also made the decision to introduce ABB Analyze Lite, which has many of the features and functionalities as the premium version but at no cost to ODs. “This has been a big game-changer during the pandemic,” Jurrens said. “We really felt that during the pandemic this was our opportunity to lead and to show up in a really different but meaningful way.”

In addition, ABB is working on an upgrade to its ABB Verify, which reviews vision insurance, that will bring in medical insurance verification, she said.

Report Cards and Summary Reports
In mid-2019, when thoughts of a virus pandemic were the furthest thing from everyone’s mind, IDOC introduced its initial customizable Report Card for members under the umbrella of its IDOC Insider program. The Report Card is accessible for members using GPN-compatible practice management systems. IDOC has a member base of more than 3,000 independent optometrists across all 50 states.

Oliver Spandow, IDOC’s CFO and executive vice president, noted that the group has been closely watching the eyecare market and tracking recovery efforts. “The recovery has been remarkably pretty consistent across the country,” he said, noting there have been a few areas outside of the recovery. “We’re actually seeing not only a very strong recovery in exams, but we’re seeing strength in optical as well,” he said.

With IDOC Insider (which uses the GPN platform), there are two ways an OD can review performance summaries: either by directly logging in or via an email report with charts that can be clicked-through for more details. Within the summary report, IDOC provides insights that address and enhance the data, with benchmarks that help ODs better contextualize their performance and opportunities. The open rates and click-through on the reports have grown significantly this year, IDOC noted.

Looking ahead, Spandow said he believes it will be equally or even more important to stay on top of performance data in 2021. ECPs should recognize that performance data in 2021 will be very different as practices “anniversary COVID,” which will make it difficult to determine a practice’s performance against some operating “norm.”

“Everybody is going to experience phenomenal growth in April compared to April 2020,” he noted. “But how do you get at understanding how you are performing when your baseline is so poor? I think it’s going to be even more important for doctors to really pay attention and understand what’s going on in 2021.”

HEA’s Manning also noted that even with more “players in the data analytics space,” there remains significant opportunity for greater utilization. “There are still a number of IECPs who are not using a data analytics dashboard or are under-leveraging valuable information available through their practice management system,” he said.

“Many practice owners understandably feel they do not have enough time to dive into analytics as all their time needs to be devoted to rebounding and seeing patients. However, the insights these analytics tools and dashboards provide enable IECPs to work smarter rather than harder—clearly demonstrating the most advantageous and efficient opportunities to address.”

Manning also noted that HEA monitors all available data to identify health care and consumer spending trends that members are likely to experience. “Perhaps most importantly, we are in constant contact with our membership, from daily calls to monthly membership surveys, to keep our finger on the pulse of new practice norms and challenges for which our members desire support,” he said.

Dashboard Options From Supply-Side Firms
One of the supply-side companies that have begun to offer a dashboard to its customers is Zeiss. According to Andrew Hyncik, head of marketing for Zeiss Vision Care US, the new Zeiss Customer Dashboard puts “everything eyecare providers need on one beautiful page.”

This includes live job status updates, business reports, marketing and educational resources, contact details, and practice and product information. “It’s all there, available at-a-glance or just one click away. [There’s] no more searching across different websites and/or multiple pages to find what you need. With just one login, everything you need from Zeiss is now at your fingertips.”

Hyncik added, “The future of customer engagement is increasingly digital, mobile-friendly and transparent. Eyecare providers—just like consumers—are looking for partners that are easy to do business with and who provide a broad range of simple-to-use, online solutions accessible from anywhere, anytime and any device. These principles are at the heart of the Zeiss Customer Dashboard experience.”

According to Hyncik the early adoption of the new Zeiss Customer Dashboard has exceeded expectations. “Well over half of our customers have signed up in the first three months since launch,” he said. “Furthermore, four out of five visitors are repeat users, which underscores the value they are getting from the dashboard.”

Hyncik said Zeiss is planning more than two dozen new features and enhancements for release over the next year as it works toward making its new Customer Dashboard “even more indispensable.”

Digging Into Changes in Patient Makeup
The PECAA alliance also has noted an increase in demand for data and analytics by its members, according to Bryan Hoban, a member business analyst. “Over the past couple of months, doctors are finding that they are working really hard and seeing as many patients as ever or as the schedule allows,” he noted. “But they’re also having this realization that they need to determine whether they are actually making money [in this new environment].”

In order to determine this, Hoban said ECPs, should consider whether there is a change in the makeup of the patients they are seeing (is it skewing younger, for example) and whether this is leading to fewer medical exams and/or changes in the number of patients with vision care plans.

This is data that can be pulled from the leading dashboard platforms and also EHR software, Hoban noted, and over the past few months ODs have come to this realization and are now asking how to do this. “We didn’t hear a whole lot in June and July because practices were slammed with their wait-lists, but we are starting to see more and more now from doctors who have worked through their backlog. These doctors are definitely starting to reach out and asking for help in understanding if they are still profitable.”

The Impact of Changes in Exam Scheduling
GPN co-founder and chief operating officer Evan Kestenbaum noted that the EDGEPro is able to help practices look at their capacity and scheduling metrics, which are key to overall profitability. “The most interesting thing, and a new piece of information, is the number of exams and how that relates to capacity,” he noted. “This is because for the first time in what seems like a long time demand has been outpacing supply.”

Now, in part because of new safety protocols, many mid-size and larger practices are seeing fewer patients per hour or per day. “Understanding your exams per day and how it relates to your capacity has become super important in the past few months,” Kestenbaum said. “We anticipate that due to the capacity issue there will be a transformational shift in the next few years.”

For example, the practices that are able to increase their capacity are cannibalizing extra exams from the practices that can’t increase capacity. “This is going to showcase itself especially when insurance contracts expire and start anew in January and February because most offices see a lot more exams in those two months,” he added.

Jason Kaminski, OD, of Vision Source Longmont, an independent practice that has served the Longmont, Colo., community since 1950, has been a believer in data tools for many years. “I’ve been looking at my metrics for literally the last 20 years. And while I may look at them differently than I did 20 years ago or even five years ago, I have always tracked the metrics,” he said.

Kaminski said that he is looking more closely at revenue per patient and the profitability of individual vision care plans. “I take three of the top vision plans and every six months or so I really dig deep and look at the profit or lack thereof that each brings me,” he noted.

At his two locations in Colorado, where he utilizes the ABB Analyze, Powered by Glimpse dashboard, Kaminski said patient flow and patient bookings have returned to just about “business as usual” now. “At this point, year-over-year numbers are at about the same level or perhaps a little better [than last year],” he said.

Going forward, Kaminski said he’s hoping to use his dashboard tool to get a deeper understanding of frame sales and which lines are performing best.