|The past year has been a busy one for the Optical Laboratories Association (OLA). It began at the association’s 2001 annual meeting with rumors of plans to combine future events with those of another industry organization. But, as then-outgoing OLA president Jeffrey Kosh told the general session of lab executives at the meeting in New Orleans, “The OLA is planning to continue to schedule an independent meeting. We have no plans nor are there any negotiations ongoing concerning the merger of the OLA’s annual meeting.”|
That doesn’t mean the organization has maintained the status quo. Several new initiatives, including some impacting the independent dispenser community directly, have the OLA heading into its annual meeting in Indianapolis November 21 through 23 with a sense of optimism absent in recent years.
Highlights of the group’s efforts over the past year include: The Progressive Identifier: The OLA released the fifth edition of this publication, which is designed to serve as a guide to the product specs of the multitude of progressive designs on the market. More than 50,000 copies of the booklet have been distributed. Plans are in the works to publish an updated version again by the end of 2003. In other publication-related news, the association is working on developing a training manual for the practice staff to assist practitioners in training new staff members in various practice management procedures.
The OLA Lens Center: OLA member labs can now offer this fully customizable lens display andinformation center to their customers. The center is designed to assist in the lifestyle dispensing process, with specific product suggestions given for occupational and leisure-time needs. Labs can focus the display on specific product categories (i.e., A-R, polycarbonate, high-index), depending on their needs. At press time, more than 1,500 centers had been sold and a second product run had been launched.
An Overhauled Annual Meeting: Last year, the OLA created an Exhibitor Advisory Group to address concerns among the manufacturers and distributors that exhibit at the association’s annual meeting.
With attendance on the decline in recent years, the association has implemented changes to the meeting format to spur growth, including reformatting the meeting’s education program. Seminars will now be offered in “tracks,” with different tracks (i.e., sales and marketing, technology, etc.) on specific days. Courses will also offer attendees ABO credit. In addition, the OLA has invited students at optometry schools within easy travelling distance of Indianapolis to attend the meeting and walk the exhibit hall.
“There was a concern among the OLA board that we needed to do something to breathe new life into the meeting,” notes Art Waite, meeting program chair and sales manager at Winchester Optical. “From my perspective, the OLA is always a positive meeting, but you have to be careful not to get complacent. Things change and evolve and you need to be prepared for what happens in the market.”
Lens Impact-Resistance Testing: COLTS Laboratories and the OLA have teamed up to offer a new “FDA Compliance” program designed to provide labs with a less expensive and more efficient method of complying with FDA impact-resistance requirements. According to COLTS, laboratory-applied lens treatments, including anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings, can significantly weaken lenses that met FDA standards at the factory, shifting the burden of meeting FDA impact requirements to the labs. Through the new program, COLTS will help establish and certify a lab’s compliance program. The initiative ultimately means dispensers will dispense safer products.
The HIPAA Helper: The OLA has created the HIPAA Helper to assist member labs in compliance with the new Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). HIPAA calls for the of electronic patient health, administrative and financial data; unique health identifiers for individuals, employers, health plans and providers; and security standards protecting confidentiality. Incoming OLA president Donna Benedict says the new regulations will affect “virtually every optical lab in the U.S.” It will also affect labs’ customer dispensers.
That many of these efforts benefit both labs and their customers isn’t just a coincidence, according to outgoing OLA president Charles “Pat” Patterson. “We as an organization are very conscious of who the majority of our membership is—the smaller, independent laboratory,” he says. “As smaller labs, many of these businesses don’t have the resources to develop these types of products and programs for their customers. That’s a big part of what we do at OLA.”