Help Paradise Fire Victims from Ridge Eye Care

The stories coming out of Butte County since the Camp Fire erupted have been overwhelming, but for me, it’s also very personal.  My closest friends from optometry school live and practice in Paradise:  Anthony Rudick and Ann-Chi Chen-Rudick are the co-owners of Ridge Eye Care along with their partner, Isaac Barthelow, M.D.  Ridge Eye Care was a large and thriving group practice until everything came to a halt on that awful day in November.  Anthony evacuated the practice at 8:30am, so everyone was able to leave Paradise before the terrifying gridlock that trapped many residents.  Miraculously, the practice and the Rudicks’ home did not burn, however 12 of the office’s 20 employees lost their homes. The practice cannot function since the town is uninhabitable, therefore there are no patients to see and no basic utilities to service the building.  While some employees have been able to relocate and work at their other offices in the region, most are displaced and struggling to piece together their lives.  It will be a very long road to normalcy for everyone.  My heart breaks for all of them.

Anthony and Ann-Chi are two of the kindest people I have ever met, and in true fashion, they have been working tirelessly with Isaac to help their employees through this stressful period of transition.  Anthony grew up in Paradise, and Isaac is from Chico.  They are committed to being an integral part of helping Paradise rise from the ashes.  Isaac has been hosting evacuated employees at his house in Chico, and others are parking trailers on the rural property where Anthony and Ann-Chi live.  (Thankfully, their Chico and Yuba City offices have been able to offer continuity of care for their patients.)  Ann-Chi used an Amazon wish list to organize a toy drive for the kids of the Ridge Eye Care family, resulting in 60+ gifts that will be distributed to their employees.  Unfortunately, the need for help will extend far beyond the Christmas season.

Christmas gifts donated to families of Ridge Eye Care

Anthony and Ann-Chi have redirected all offers for help to their employees and their daughter’s pre-school.  Therefore I have chosen to focus our holiday giving on contributions that will directly help the families of Ridge Eye Care.   Local colleagues and businesses will be receiving “donations in your name” from us rather than the usual plant/food gifts that we typically deliver during this time of year.

This sign was one of many landmarks destroy by the Camp Fire.

We have donation bins in my office if you’d like to donate items to the families. We will be taking them up to the victims as the bins fill during the coming months, ensuring that they go directly to displaced employees. Items requested include the following: non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, toiletries, masks, gloves, toothbrushes, toothpaste, linens, blankets, dishes, baby items, water, pet food, pet gear, gas cards, gift cards, etc.

Anticipating a few potential questions…
Q1:  If I cannot bring a donation until after Christmas, will it be too late?
A1:  Nope!  We will continue to deliver donations after the holiday season as the bins fill up.  It is our hope that we will be making lots of trips to Paradise.

Q2:  Is there a way to donate directly via an online source?
A2:  Yes!  A few of the employees have created personal pages for collecting donations.  I have omitted the links here for privacy reasons, but will happily provide them via private message if you send me a request.

Q3:  May I mail donation items to you?
A3:  Yes, feel free to send items to the mailing address on our website.

Q4:  Has there been any specific news coverage on Ridge Eye Care?
A3:  Yes, Anthony was interviewed by the local NPR station.  His segment starts at 23:33 on this podcast from December 3, 2018.

Thank you for reading this lengthy but important post.
‘Tis the season for giving and gratitude!  –LMH

 

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Being a David as the Goliaths Gain Power

Eps file + high resolution JPEG

Image source:  iStock.com

Have you ever felt like an airline, bank, or cable company exploited its monopoly status by treating a customer poorly?  Of course, that is a rhetorical question because we have all wanted to pull our hair out at one time or another by the inability to jump ship when dissatisfied by a product or service offered by the likes of United Airlines, Comcast, AT&T, and Wells Fargo.  It’s a classic David vs. Goliath conflict, where Goliaths of the consolidated industries have been allowed to grow in power and number as anti-trust regulations grew lax in recent decades.  In early 2017, two of the Goliaths in eye care announced that they would merge as Luxottica agreed to be acquired by Essilor.  It is my opinion that if allowed to proceed, the merger would result in a monopoly-like status for the joined companies, driving increased cost and limited choice for eye care consumers.  In this blog post, I will explain the importance of remaining a David while the Goliaths gain power in eye care.

Anti-Trust Concern
Since the planned merger of Luxottica-Essilor was announced in January, I have attempted to write a blog post on this topic several times, each time giving up because the story is complex and others had already done a great job describing it.  For example, here is a link to an insightful post written by Al Cleinman, someone I hold in the highest regard when it comes to wisdom on these matters.  His blog post is full of pertinent facts and figures.

Concern over Luxottica’s monopolistic behavior is not new.   60 Minutes aired this story in 2012:

In this Forbes article from 2014, Luxottica is described as “the four-eyed, eight-tentacled monopoly that is making your glasses so expensive.”  Most of the article is well-written and accurate, aside from the portion where the author refers to ophthalmic eye wear as low-tech because most eyewear definitely not low-tech.  I strongly agree with her assertion, “Having control over the pricing of a huge variety of different brands means Luxottica can also carefully engineer the prices of different brands to encourage you to shell out an additional $80 for that beloved logo or streak of Tiffany blue.”  Bingo!

John Oliver discussed Luxottica at the 10-minute mark in this episode of Last Week Tonight in September (contains explicit language):

Today another article started to float around.  It is the most well-articulated case against the merger that I have seen, and it is important enough to paste the full text below in its entirety.   The author is an anti-trust attorney named David Balto, and he is hoping that the U.S. government will explore anti-trust enforcement to block the merger.  The European Union began a full investigation earlier this year.

As an aside, the David vs. Goliath theme in this post was partially inspired by David Balto’s name.

Who are Luxottica and Essilor?  Why haven’t I heard of them before?
Luxottica (NYSE: LXFT) is the Italian parent company for the following entities:
(1)  Eyemed vision care, a vision plan that boasts having 87k in-network vision care providers on its home page.  There are approximately 50 million people covered by Eyemed in the United States.
(2)  Corporate eye care locations Lenscrafters, Pearle, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, Sears Optical, JC Penney Optical, as well as a few others.  Eyemed actively promotes these corporate locations by telling patients that their benefits will reap more savings there than with the private practice doctor they have come to trust.  They mine the data provided with claim submissions to market directly to our patients.
(3)  Many popular and recognizable frame lines such as RayBan, Oakley, Coach, Chanel, Prada, Michael Kors, and Versace.  Their Vogue frame company recently introduced a line in partnership with the supermodel, Gigi Hadid.  Here is a screen-shot taken this morning from the Luxottica home page:
Luxottica Brands as of Nov 2017

The other player in this potential merger is France’s Essilor (EPA: EI), the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses.  While Essilor is not necessarily a household name, many of their products are well-known.  Essilor produces popular brands such as Varilux, Transitions, Crizal, and Foster Grant, just to name a few.  They also own a large alliance of private optometric practices known as Vision Source, and online retailers such as coastal.com, eyebuydirect.com, and framesdirect.com.

Image source: iStock.com

Image source: iStock.com

We Need the Davids
It’s kind of dizzying isn’t it?  I struggle to keep up even though I am immersed in it every day, so it is understandable that the average eye care consumer would be unable to comprehend the scale and anti-trust ramifications of the proposed merger.  It is my opinion (shared by many others), that the merger would allow these companies to further drive up costs and limit choices for American eye care consumers.

In my office, we are asked some version of the following questions on a regular basis:
“Why don’t you accept Eyemed vision insurance?”
“Why don’t you carry RayBan?”

In other words, why haven’t I allowed Goliath to infiltrate my practice?  The simplest answer is that I believe my patients deserve affordable and quality choices.   I also care deeply about personalized service, competition, and American jobs.  However, while that soundbite is absolutely true, it is difficult to explain the big picture in a quick 30-second conversation.

In short, supporting Luxottica and Essilor would further empower them to erode the private practice model of eye care.  It has not been an easy position to take from a business standpoint.  In fact, it has slowed the growth of my practice by many of the traditional measures because a lot of people leave my office to purchase Luxottica products elsewhere, but I decided five years ago that I would differentiate myself and my practice by standing for fierce independence.  If I remain a David, I can also remain true to the ideals that are most important to me.

Image source: iStock.com

Image source: iStock.com

Looking on the bright side, David eventually conquered Goliath in the ancient story.  Likewise, I believe that the personalized, quality service of small practices can — and must — prevail  over the big conglomerate model.  Slowly but surely, my approach is working as patients express loyalty and appreciation.

Our patients want to be heard, and they need us to fight for this ideal, otherwise our profession will mimic the airline, bank, and cable company industries as private practices fade away.  I shudder at the thought.

In my next few posts, I will describe specific examples to illustrate how quality of care and patient experiences are altered, starting with a simple comparison between RayBan and MauiJim sunglasses.  The difference can be striking.  Until then, please enjoy the article by David Balto linked and pasted below.  –LMH


Get ready to pay when one company dominates the eyeglass market

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Last year Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) threw down the gauntlet in antitrust enforcement. “Today, in America, competition is dying,” Warren said. “Consolidation and concentration are on the rise in sector after sector. Concentration threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy.”

Today, the merger of Luxottica and Essilor threatens to create a vision care monopoly and you don’t need a corrected prescription to clearly see it will harm consumers with higher prices and less choice. The question remains: When will we be tough enough to prevent harmful consolidation?

It’s easy to see why the merger of Essilor and Luxottica should be denied. The merger would combine the world’s largest eyewear company with the world’s largest manufacturer of optical lenses. But that is an oversimplification. The merger also involves the U.S.’s second largest vision insurance company, owned by Luxottica, and the U.S.’s largest optical retailer, composed of many companies all owned by Luxottica.

That’s still not the whole story, the combined Essilor and Luxottica will exert control over 83 percent of optometrists through Luxottica’s EyeMed Vision Care company. EyeMed has 43 million members and is accepted at over 30,000 U.S. optometrists. Luxottica uses this vision benefits company largely to steer patients towards Luxottica’s own products.

But wait, there’s more. Luxottica has been featured twice in the news for its ability to command high prices and bully competitors. In 2012, 60 Minutes ran a story on the false choice in eyeglass frames, explaining that most brands you see in the stores are owned by the same company. The reporter attributed sky-high prices to the lack of choices. And John Oliver ran a piece this year that explained how Luxottica used its vertical market power to pressure Oakley into selling its company after a dispute with Luxottica over pricing.

Even the Democratic Party has signaled out this merger as being dangerous for consumers. Senate Democrats launched their A Better Dealplatform with an explicit mention of the Essilor/Luxottica merger as a merger that would “harm consumers, workers, and competition.” Their white paper points out “the current average price of eyeglasses is now at $400, a cost in line with an iPad, and is steadily rising.”

A combined Luxottica and Essilor company would have enormous power over every stage of producing and selling eyewear. Luxottica in particular has pursued a strategy of gobbling up brands and presenting consumers with false choices. Altogether, Luxottica has nine house brands and is licensed to produce and distribute another 21 more. These brands include Ray-Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Georgio Armani, Coach, DKNY, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Versace and DKNY. Luxottica also owns over 9,000 stores, including Sunglass Hut, LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, and Target Optical.

Things are already bad. Since Luxottica bought Ray-Ban almost 20 years ago, the average selling price has gone up, and so have Luxottica’s profit margins. The merger could only make things worse.

Some might suggest the merger raises few concerns because it is vertical, meaning that the companies are mostly on different levels of the supply chain. Essilor makes lenses and Luxottica makes frames. In early antitrust policy there were complaints that we over-enforced against these types of mergers, and economists published evidence that vertical mergers can actually provide some benefits. This led to a massive pendulum swing, but with the DOJ’s challenge to the AT&T Time Warner merger it appears the pendulum is swinging backwards.

All it takes is an antitrust enforcer willing to fight and good evidence, and here there is a lot of good evidence that this merger will harm consumers and competition.

Consumers need real choice, not fake choice in the eyeglass market. Consumers also need real competition to curb the sky-high prices of eyeglasses. They will get neither of this merger is permitted to go through. We’ve already seen the E.U. get tough on this merger — they opened a full-scale investigation in September. It is now time for the U.S. to step up to the plate.

David Balto is an antitrust attorney based in Washington, D.C.. He previously served as policy director at the Federal Trade Commission and as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. He is an expert in antitrust, consumer protection, financial services, intellectual property and health care competition.


Edit on April 2, 2018:   American and European regulators have approved the merger of merger of Luxottica and Essilor.
Click here for a Reuters report on the approval of the European Union.
Click here for a Financial Times report on the assessment by the American Federal Trade Commission.

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Looking for the Helpers

I was reminded today why the message from Mr. Rogers about looking “for the helpers” is so powerful.   After I learned about the massacre in Las Vegas last night, I was distraught and unable to fall asleep until after 2am.  With a full schedule today, I worried how on earth I would be able to concentrate and help people given the lack of sleep and a heavy heart?

Image credit: Reddit

Life is funny sometimes because it turned out that a productive day of helping others see better led to some beautiful moments in the exam room.  People felt like reflecting or venting, and I just listened.  The last patient was here for a new scleral lens fitting, and he was ecstatic when he left knowing that he was going to see clearly in both eyes for the first time in a LONG time.  Those moments carried me through the day.

The aftermath of a scleral lens fitting.

There was one gunman but there were hundreds of heroes in Vegas yesterday, and their stories have only begun to emerge.  That’s what I’m going to focus on to navigate the mixture of emotions conjured up by yesterday’s shooting.  The first-responders and those who were willing to take a bullet while protecting another human being were, of course, the “helpers” referenced in the Mr. Rogers quote.

By no means am I likening a contact lens fitting to taking a bullet for someone in a mass shooting, but today was a timely reminder that the primary way to make our lives meaningful is by helping our fellow human beings.  Therefore, we should not only look for “the helpers,” but we should also try to be “the helpers.”  Small things and random acts of kindness count too.

Simply put, being a “helper” is good for the soul, and we can all do it.  The potential ripple-effect throughout American society could be the game-changer that we so desperately need to curtail the hate and anger seeping across the land.  –LMH

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#3 of 52 Thank Yous: Our 6th Anniversary

Happy anniversary to Valley Vista Eye Care!
anniversary-april-fools-01

It was great fun to celebrate our 6th anniversary on Saturday.  Turns out, it fell on a day when we were scheduled to see patients, typically true only one Saturday per month.  We had a full schedule of happy patients and donuts to treat the people who visited the office that day.

Many thanks to the wonderful people in Yolo County who make our work worthwhile. We are honored to serve you, and work hard every day to be worthy of your loyalty!

Footnote:  I still plan to carry through with the 52 Thank Yous series.  Rather than weekly, the posts will be spread out over a longer period. –LMH

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Going Left When the World Goes Right

Hello there!  It may appear as though I forgot about my blog readers, but that is most definitely not the case.  I am steadily working behind the scenes on the big changes alluded to in my first blog post, and I promise to have a big announcement with more details for you on May 1st.   That said, I am fresh off attending an Eric Church concert, and felt a need to write about a tie between his music and the current state of private practice optometry.  It probably sounds like a strange connection, but bear with me.  If you’ve never heard of Eric Church, he is a country singer who has built a fiercely loyal following by bucking the status quo aspects of the music industry.  Some refer to him as a gritty outlaw of country music with themes of independence, loyalty, coming of age, and social relevance.  He takes pride in “going left when the world went right.”  That phrase is from a song called Mr. Misunderstood.  It’s one of my favorites written and recorded by Eric Church.  Here are the lyrics for the applicable portion of that song:

“Took a left when the world went right down 16th Avenue
Played with fire and I played on ledges
Every circus, stage, and county fair
They tried to file my points
Sand my edges, and I just grew out my hair
I’m Mr. Misunderstood
I’m Mr. Misunderstood”   –Eric Church

The lyrics mirror Eric Church’s approach to his career and his fans; he is unwilling to let the music industry system control him and force a certain structure on him.  He enjoys the freedom that comes from “owning the path that you’re walking in.”  The lyrics for Mr. Misunderstood are profound in that way, and without fail, I think about my patients every time I hear it.

A Striking Parallel Between Music and Eye Care
So why on earth does Mr. Misunderstood make me think about eye care?  Simple:  I’m building a practice that goes left while the world goes right, and I’m doing that because it will allow me to adhere to the ideal of putting my patients’ needs first.  It has grown increasingly difficult to adhere to that premise in the current health care climate due to the meddlesome managed-care plans that dictate every aspect of a patient’s care.  In many cases, my training and expertise leave me with less authority than the insurance company employee who sits in a cubicle making decisions about coverage for a patient he or she will never have to face in person.

Take a look at Eric Church’s approach toward ticket scalpers.  He fights back against organizations that scoop up large numbers of tickets to be sold on the secondary market at inflated prices.  (Read about his ongoing efforts to do so here, here, and here.)  Eric Church wants his fans to pay face-value for their tickets rather than being ripped off by a third-party middle man.  There is a striking parallel between these middle-men in the music and health care industries!

He explains in this Rolling Stone article, “The problem I have is that scalpers have a bazillion people working for them. And they have those bots that scan. So it’s not fair. I’ve been told to raise my prices. But there’s guys out there that want to come to a show and bring their family to a show and are working a blue-collar job, they were there for us in bars and clubs, so I should raise to $100 because that’s what the scalpers think? I refuse to believe that.”  To illustrate, our tickets for last night’s show were $61 each for first level seats facing the stage, which is roughly $100 less than we would have paid for similar seats at most other headliner concerts.  I admire that Eric Church wants to ensure true fans can attend his concerts by keeping tickets prices reasonable.

shutterstock_153650348 Similarly, I want my patients to be charged at a fair-value for services rather than being subjected to the nonsense policies and pricing imposed by third-party middle-men.  When I attend lectures by industry “experts,” the topic of declining reimbursements is followed by suggestions to sell more stuff.  For example, they advise recommending screening photos and second pairs of eyewear to improve revenue and offset lousy exam fee payments.  Increased prices are also suggested.  If I were to implement these suggestions across the board, I would be contributing to the problem of exorbitant health care costs in our country.  That’s not to say that I never recommend photos or second pairs of eyewear, but I do so in a discriminating manner when I believe the benefit for the patient outweighs the cost.  For me, it’s a matter of integrity and being part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem.

Emphasize the Stuff that Matters
Last night was all about the music.  Just a guy with his guitar, a six-piece band, and some spotlights.  No opening act.  No costumes or fancy stage sets.  No back-up dancers doing the bump-and-grind.  At the beginning of the show, he said, “My promise to you is that my band and I will leave it all out here on the stage tonight.”  He played for nearly 3.5 hours to a packed arena, two sets of roughly 20 songs each.  That level of work ethic is virtually unheard of in the entertainment industry today.

In my office, the primary emphasis is on your care.  I do not have an army of employees who create an eye care assembly-line with high overhead, and it is not my goal to structure the practice that way.  When you make an appointment with me, you get me.

An appointment should be all about you and the care that you need, but sadly, the visit is usually derailed by reporting or billing requirements imposed by outside entities.  You want to ask  me about your itchy eyes?  Hold on!  First, I have to gather a mountain of semi-useless data so that the bean counters will be convinced that I did a good job when/if they decide to audit me.  We also need to discuss the difference between billing your medical plan vs. the vision plan (i.e. Blue Cross vs. Eyemed) because you may be subject to deductibles and higher out-of-pocket costs.  Okay, now we can talk about your itchy eyes with the precious time remaining in the appointment.  Of course, the itch may be irrelevant by now if you have gouged out your eyeballs in frustration over the documentation requirements.

The prevailing message here is that to leave a mark on the world, one needs to have the courage and conviction to take the road less traveled.  Of course, that sentiment is not new, but it was great fun to enjoy a prime example of it last night.  Eric Church’s fans were the beneficiaries last night, and my patients will be the beneficiaries for years to come.  When another entity tries to “file my points, sand my edges, ” I will “just grow out my hair.”  That is my promise!  –LMH

(Image source:  Shutterstock)

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#2 of 52 Thank Yous: Hooray for School Nurses

We are into week 2 of 2017, so it’s time for another entry in my series of 52 Thank Yous.  Please see my prior blog post if you missed the introduction to this series of posts intended to promote an attitude of gratitude throughout the year.

3D rendering of 2017 with green grass, on white background.

Photo credit:  Bigstock

Entry #2 will be an ode to school nurses.  The topic is on my mind because I spent some time with the nurses who support the Woodland school district a few days ago.  The district has invested in some new vision screening equipment, and they asked me to attend the training webinar because a state law requires that an  optometrist or ophthalmologist be involved with the screening process.  It’s always fun to learn about new technology, so off I went.  The SPOT vision screener is really easy to use, and it gives useful information to the nurses as they determine if a child needs to be referred for a full exam.  The photo below shows the device in use while testing a young child.

Photo credit:  Western Ophthalmics website

After the webinar, I was thinking about the wide scope of responsibility for school nurses  these days.  Their responsibilities span over several disciplines pertaining to overall health and wellness, and their efforts are intended to help the children and teachers to avoid absenteeism.  They also help students with chronic conditions such as diabetes and seizures remain in class by administering treatment, address injuries/accidents, coordinate referrals, verify immunizations, and offer counseling for students with emotional and psychiatric concerns.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff!

The training also made me think back to a time in 2nd grade when I injured myself on the playground at school.  My head was bleeding profusely in a way that made the cut appear to be more critical than it was.  Of course, I didn’t know what to do.  The nurse administered basic first aid, then she called my mom to take me home because blood had dripped onto my clothes.  “What?!?!  Can you give me a band-aid?”  The thought of going home was more horrifying than the injury because I was a nerd who did not like to miss school for any reason.  I successfully negotiated in favor of a change of clothes rather than a trip home for the afternoon.  Whew, crisis averted, thanks to the nurse who brokered the deal between me and my teacher.

The nurses I met this week were committed and passionate, and they deserve to be recognized for the hurdles that they face each day.  I suspect it’s a pretty thankless job during most days, so next time you get a chance, please say thank you.   –LMH

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#1 of 52 Thank Yous: A Tender Moment

One of the barriers to resurrecting my blog was the nagging thought that I would not be able to generate interesting content to keep my readers interested.  This series will be an attempt to do that, with the idea that consciously shining a light on positive things that happen to us will result in a more balanced sense of peace.  I am committing to a weekly “thank you” each week through 2017.  Now that it has been said publicly, I have to be accountable to you!

Gratitude, kindness, appreciation, care plan on wooden background

Photo credit:  iStock

The first thank you is for one of my patients from yesterday, initials RC.  As I often do, I asked about details from her personal life that she had shared previously.  During the last visit, she explained me that her beloved dog was quite old but in great health and doing well.  As soon as I asked how she was doing, the look on RC’s face said everything I needed to know.

RC proceeded to tell me a beautiful story of her pup’s last days, the gut-wrenching decision to euthanize her, and the loving way that she and her husband buried her in their yard.  She explained, “I needed her to be near me.”  She also shared that they embarked on the puppy adoption process four months later, happily bringing home two new rambunctious and adorable puppies who have since stolen her heart.

RC has a knack for telling stories, so we were alternating between tears and laughing as she described  the lows and highs of this process that every pet owner knows all too well.  RC, thank you for sharing such a tender moment with me.  I cherish these times in the exam room, as they usually unfold spontaneously and allow for stronger bonds that enrich our basic human experience.   –LMH

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Generosity and Vulnerability

In my first post earlier this week, I promised that my blog would contain some upbeat fun material in addition to the managed-care and clinical topics that initially drove me to revive the blog.  The following story describes an event from last fall that touched my heart and resulted in a significant donation for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), an organization that helps visually impaired individuals maintain independence by pairing them with trained guide dogs.  As an optometrist and a dog lover, I care very deeply about GDB’s mission:

“Guide Dogs for the Blind empowers lives by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs, and communities.”  —GDB website

I purposely waited until my blog was ready to share this story because I thought it deserved more than a quick Facebook post.  Please bear with me as the story is a bit long.

In early October, I attended a network meeting in Chicago with Cleinman Performance Partners, a consulting and wisdom-sharing organization for independent optometrists who wish to improve their practices.  It is a dynamic and inspiring group of people, referring to both the optometrists in attendance and the people from Cleinman who host the meeting.   The founder and leader is Al Cleinman, a well-known leader in the eye care industry for over four decades.  Al is the practice management guru who I respect more than any other in the field because of the way he espouses principles of integrity, entrepreneurship, and challenging the status quo.

The positive energy at the meeting was electric, just as it had been when I attended my first meeting in 2015.  The concept of defining and finding one’s “tribe” has become popular these days, and while there, I feel like I am with my tribe.  It is both uplifting and therapeutic to be surrounded by scores of people who share the same high standards for the practice of optometry.

The meeting involved a banquet on Saturday night where two charities would be supported with donations from the attendees.  Each attendee was asked to donate at least $100 to the “pot,” and I estimate that there were around 180-200 people in the room.  The Cleinman organization also added a large donation.  They had chosen InfantSee to be the recipient of half of the funds raised that evening, and the recipient of the second half of the donations would be decided by a two-step voting process.

The first step of the voting process took place in our breakout sessions.  Each attendee was invited to nominate an organization, then pitch the nomination within his/her breakout group of 10-12 people.  The members of each group chose a winner who would present to the entire organization at the banquet.  A second vote would be conducted at the banquet.

It’s probably obvious by now that I nominated Guide Dogs for the Blind.  One of the members in my breakout session jumped in to say he was familiar with GDB because one of his employees is a volunteer puppy raiser.  Votes were counted, and Amanda, our facilitator, announced that GDB had won the vote for our breakout group.

guide-dog-puppy

Photo credit: Facebook page for Guide Dogs for the Blind

I was simultaneously elated and intimidated by the victory.  You see, I am a relatively new member of the Cleinman group, knew very few people at the meeting, and was unfamiliar with the protocol for presenting GDB to the larger group.  Usually the thought of speaking in front of a crowd is exhilarating for me, so I’m not sure why I felt intimidated this time.  Perhaps it was because I have such great respect for the group and did not want to disappoint?  It is easy to casually talk about something around a conference room table with people who you already know, it is quite another to convince an entire banquet room full of (mostly) strangers to choose my charity.  The veteran attendees had the advantage of having seen this event play out during prior years, so they knew more about what to expect and how to make a splash.

Alas, I reminded myself that I was going to be amidst my tribe, and GDB is important to me, so I would figure it out.  Amanda asked if I had any pictures or videos that the IT person could display while I talked, so I showed her to the websites for GDB and Trevor Thomas, the blind hiker who is paired with Tennille.  Tennille was raised by a volunteer in my local Yolo county chapter of puppy raisers, and she has become very well-known now for her efforts to help Trevor navigate during their backpacking adventures together.  All puppy raisers are proud of puppies who graduate to serve as working guides, but Tennille’s work has been particularly remarkable because she can lead Trevor in the treacherous backcountry.

It’s easy for me to speak from the heart about GDB, so that is exactly what I did.  I was grateful for Amanda’s suggestion to add an audio-visual element, because the following video was a great exclamation mark at the end of my short talk.

The other banquet presentations were also very moving.  In all, seven or eight charity organizations were featured by my colleagues.  I wish that I had a kept a list.  There was a group related to pancreatic cancer patients, an organization that provides school clothes for poverty-stricken children, a suicide prevention group, and so on.  My presentation was the penultimate, followed by an optometrist named Heather Demos who told us about a group called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes that works to end sexual violence toward women.  The organization holds events for awareness and fundraising where men literally march for a mile in women’s high-heeled shoes.

Heather’s presentation was fantastic!  She told us about the great work that they do, and how her practice has participated in local events, but the way she ended will stay with me forever.  She had recruited the men in her breakout group to march on stage in red high heels.

It was hysterical!  Picture 6-8 grown men with their pants rolled up to expose the red high heels, some hobbling as if they may fall at any second, and some strutting with serious mojo.  Add in the funny music like, “I’m Too Sexy for my Body,” raucous laughter from the crowd, and I thought I was toast.  The guys were very good sports, letting all of us laugh at their expense.  I wish that I had taken a picture!

Needless to say, the competition was stiff, with all of the organizations very deserving of the group vote.   Our emcee, Kathleen, gave the instructions to vote with our cell phones, and the “polls” were left open for five minutes.  During those five minutes, I was feeling very relaxed and enjoying the company of people seated at my table, fully expecting that one of the more well-known OD’s would be the winner.  After all, things like this can be kind of like a popularity contest, so I imagined that most people would vote for their friends’ charities.

Boy, was I wrong.  Kathleen announced that GDB had won the vote!  When I returned to the stage to make a few remarks, she surprised me by saying that the margin of victory was quite large.  I don’t remember much else because it was a bit of a whirlwind.  The other presenters deserved acknowledgment, so I made sure that happened.  Later, several people told me the video was the clincher.  “As soon as you mentioned puppies, I knew you were going to win.”  Or, “No one can compete with puppies.”  I would have to agree, but I also thought the men in high heels were tough competition!

guide-dog-puppy2

Photo credit: Facebook page for Guide Dogs for the Blind

Later when I thanked Amanda for her suggestion to include the video, she laughed and said, “This ain’t my first rodeo!”  Ah, of course Amanda’s leadership and wisdom extend the gamut from practice management topics to pitching a charity.  She had my back right from the start!

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was cc’ed on the following letter from Al Cleinman to Guide Dogs for the Blind:

2016-11-04-14-24-34

The final donation amount for GDB was $2,325.

Lesson of the day:  show up and be vulnerable.  Great things will follow.  I’ll leave you with this thought from the late Scott Dinsmore.  Scott was the brilliant founder of the Live Your Legend community.

More on Scott’s work in another post.  His story is both infinitely inspiring and tragic all at once.

As I reflect back three months later, I am still deeply moved by this lesson in vulnerability and grateful that GDB could be the recipient of such generosity.  I hope you enjoyed the story.  Please leave a comment to tell me what you think!   –LMH

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Dotting the Eyes

Hello, and welcome to my little corner of the blogging world. I decided dust off my practice blog after allowing it to go dormant several years ago. Why now, you ask?  Simply put, I have some things to say.  Colleagues and patients have been asking me to document my thoughts about eye care in a more formal way, so here I am, dipping my toe into the world of published work.  The blog has been under construction for a few months, but now the “eyes” are dotted and t’s are crossed, so it’s ready to be unveiled.  The fresh start of a new year seems like the perfect time to do it.

silhouette man jumps to make the word Happy New Year 2017 with sunrise. (New Year 2017 is coming concept.)

Photo credit:  Shutterstock

I began practicing optometry in 2009, and I have owned my practice in Woodland, CA since 2011.  My daily interactions with patients, employees, colleagues, vendors, 3rd party payers, and the world at large both inspire and puzzle me. This blog will be a place where I share my perspective and hopefully contribute in some way to eventual improvements in the way eye care is delivered.  I will explore these concepts as well as more light-hearted topics in my future posts.  One of my recurring themes for the coming year will be gratitude, including a series of 52 Thank Yous that will begin later this week.

I don’t have to tell you that our health care system is woefully flawed, but the good news is it doesn’t need to be this way!  I have a vision for improving upon the traditional model of eye care that has come to exist in the face of meddlesome managed care plans.

Most people visit either a private practice optometrist or a corporate-based optometrist for basic primary eye care, but very few understand how much of that interaction is dictated by the 3rd party payer that has inserted itself between the optometrist and patient.  I believe:

  • The status quo has failed us, and it must be confronted by those of us who have the courage to stand up for what our patients deserve.
  • Our patients can and should expect more than what the current 3rd party mechanisms allow us to provide:  better communication, better quality materials, better service, and better pricing.
  • Health care is a calling, not an industry to be controlled by actuaries at 3rd party insurance companies.

Have I piqued your curiosity?  If so, please subscribe or check back for updates.  New content is coming later this week with the introduction of 52 Thank Yous.

Cheers to great things ahead in 2017!  –LMH

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