With the advent of online and Internet-based services for eyecare practitioners, ordering spectacle lenses, frames and contact lenses has never been easier. Although the technology is relatively new, thousands of independent optometrists, opticians and dispensers are sending Rx orders to optical laboratories through services such as VisionWeb and Eyefinity. Their retail chain counterparts are plugging into an assortment of proprietary, in-house systems.
Every system has plusses and minuses, but users generally agree that ordering online is much more efficient and accurate than the old method of phoning or faxing in orders. Features like order status updates and the ability to send remote frame trace data with the patient’s prescription speed delivery times and boost service levels. The net result is greater productivity and significant cost savings.
Although online ordering is increasing, many eyecare practitioners have not yet taken advantage of the technology or may only use it sparingly. However, industry observers predict that the number of orders will surge as suppliers continue to integrate their services with various practice management software and link with managed vision care companies to allow for direct processing of insurance claims. In addition to linking to practice management software, companies are also increasingly linking to lab management software.
L&T asked three practitioners who order lenses online to describe how the technology is changing the way they do business and service their patients.
|Michelle Welch, optician with Derek Rice, OD and Robert Rosenberg, OD in Whittier, Calif.|
“I’ve been using the Internet to order optical products for three or four years. It used to be you had to go to different companies’ catalogs and web sites and some companies didn’t even have web sites, so you had to call individual vendors. Now we use Eyefinity’s eBuy service. We’re a large VSP practice and I do 90 percent of my ordering on the web. It’s a lot easier because it’s one-stop shopping; you can order frames, lenses and contacts at the same time. We used to hand-write every job order, then order the frame, then go to the contact lens manufacturers too. Now it takes a matter of three minutes compared with 20 minutes. It’s very efficient. There are a few vendors that we still need to call on the phone, but they’re few and far between. A lot more manufacturers and companies are getting web sites. I used to sit on the phone for 45 minutes calling 10 manufacturers. Now I can do it during lunch or while my patients are here or whenever I want to. The time management aspect is great.
“The prescription information goes straight to the lab. There are probably 50 or more labs on the system and you pick the ones that you have accounts with. You can store lab contact information. It’s quite efficient; the lab gets the order that day. You can send in the orders on the weekend and they’ll get it Monday. There’s no lag time. You can do transactions after hours, too, so the orders will get there first thing in the morning. It’s probably 99 percent foolproof. I rarely need to talk on the phone with a lab’s customer service reps.
“Turnaround seems to be five to seven days, depending on what lab you’re using. Our main lab is Collard-Rose here in Whittier. We also use Bartley Optical and the VSP lab in California.
“eBuy offers most of the lenses I need. Usually, when a new lens comes out, VSP puts it on their options list very quickly.”
John Williams, optician at Eyetique in Pittsburgh, Pa.
“We started using VisionWeb around December 2002. Since then, it has become easier. The biggest thing is it has decreased our phone errors. We’ve eliminated the middleman—the customer service rep at the lab. Sometimes I’d say something wrong or she’d hear me incorrectly. For example, I might want a plus cylinder but ended up with a minus instead. Now it comes down to me typing it in right the first time.
“We just use VisionWeb for uncuts and lab work and contact lenses. With contacts, you can place direct orders. All you have to do is type in a person’s address and the lenses go directly to their home.
“The lab I use most through VisionWeb is the same lab I dealt with before. Their rep came in and showed me how to use the system.
“As far as turnaround time, using VisionWeb did speed things up a little. I put the orders in first thing in the morning. I can go online and it will tell me the order status. If the lab tracks it all the way through, it works OK, but if they’re not keeping up on their end, you might not always know what’s happening. Sometimes I still call the lab.
“Using the system has cut down on phone time. Initially, it was slower than talking to a person, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty quick. Depending on your computer, it can take some time, though. Sometimes, even with DSL, it takes a second or two after you put in the Rx, depending on how busy our server is.
“Another good thing is that the system keeps a complete archive of every job that’s been put into it since we started using it. I can go back and see what type of lens a patient is using. I go through it every once in a while and might spot a problem, like if someone didn’t get their contact lenses.”
John Perkins, Pearle Vision franchisee, McLean, Va.
“I use the Pearle Pro system [a multifunction, online system proprietary to Pearle Vision]. It’s not through the Internet; you don’t have to log on. We have a dedicated line for it. There are computer terminals in the dispensary, at the front counter and in the lab in back. You can take an order from a client and send it directly to Pearle. Before, when I placed an order, I used to have to wait two or three minutes on hold. Sometimes you’d get disconnected. I’ve used a fax system too, but this is much more efficient.
“This system eliminates human errors other than your own. You’re responsible for your own errors.
“The way it works is we take the job in and collect the entire order from the client. When you get ready to send the order to Pearle, you go into a menu screen, enter the customer’s name and it brings up the order that we have just taken in. We fill out a form to specify if we want an uncut or stock lens, AR or not, tinted or not. If you put in the Pearle SKU number for that frame, you can have the frame dimensions right there, plus the size and colors available. You can also put in a generic SKU number and put in the frame dimensions yourself. Then you send the order to the Pearle lab. It takes about 30 seconds if you have the information already entered.
“The system gives me the opportunity to order product after hours, which is very convenient. You have to learn some new codes for the computer, so there’s a learning curve. But once you get into it, it substantially reduces time. For example, I can order a product while the client is still there. By the time they say ‘See you later, John,’ I’m finished.
“Since my work is uncut, the lenses come to me and I edge them here in the store. You can use it for stock lenses as well. You just punch in the type of material and SKU number and send it off. Whenever the lab uses a lens out of stock, they order a replacement automatically.”