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I want to see us all succeed and elevate our profession in the process, avoiding pressures put on us by our “partners” who seek to control our income and our product choices. One way VSP tries to control us is through the myth that Premiere status is vital to our success. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I came up with this analysis that should make you more comfortable making your own product mix choices without having your hand forced by our “partner” under the threat of driving business away from you to your competitors.

A little history…

VSP has positioned Premiere as a way for you to “stand out” ahead of non-Premiere practices in the VSP doctor locator. In order to become (and remain) a VSP Premiere practice, you must stock and sell a certain amount of Marchon eyewear. If you do this, you will gain “favored nation” status in terms of “findability” when VSP Lives search for a doctor in your area. For those of you who don’t know me well, I’ve made a second career out of understanding how patients find our practices, mostly using the internet by “optimizing” your listing in search engines like Google, what we call “search engine optimization”. This gives me a unique perspective on the search feature within the VSP website. In my opinion, Premiere is a scare tactic designed to drive VSP’s lucrative frame business, which has been faltering in direct correlation to how much VSP puts the screws to its original provider network. I believe, however, this is about to backfire.

VSP patients find you online in many ways; these are the three most common:

  1. They search Google using a search term like “eye doctor <city>” or “Optometrist” or “Optical” the same way you do for other goods and services.
  2. They know of your practice from a referral from a friend, colleague, or family member, have been exposed to your sign, advertising or reputation THEN go to the VSP site to see if you participate.
  3. They start their journey to your office by searching the doctor locator on the VSP website.

In the first instance, the VSP covered individual searches google and identifies a practice in their area online that is convenient, appears professional and has a lot of pretty yellow stars from good reviews, THEN visits the VSP doctor locator to see if the practice is a VSP practice. In the second instance, they already have a place in mind in which case they may check your online reviews but they only use the VSP website to see if you are a participating provider and your status makes little to known difference in their decision to choose you. In the third instance, you know from your search behaviors online you are much more inclined to choose your health care providers via situations such as one or two; as proof just ask yourself how often you go to your insurance plan’s website to choose a provider?

VSP would have you think they are Google the way they stress the importance of Premiere status. For the vast majority of patients, it doesn’t matter how “high up” your premiere listing is. Premiere status is a tiny directory that a minority of VSP plan holders use that they position as important so you buy products from them. If you don’t buy this argument keep in mind most of us are listed as VSP doctors somewhere on our website or internet presence, and how many optometric practices aren’t VSP providers? Not many, so it’s possible the number of people using the VSP directory to find out who they should go to is even smaller than I estimate…

IMHO Premiere is a weak attempt to force your hand to purchase more products from an “insurer” who shouldn’t profit from the sale of retail items to begin with. When we realize how really ineffective their “doctor search” is in driving new VSP patients we’ll be able to choose what product mix is best for our patients and do so based on their preferences, not VSPs. Let’s not allow ourselves to be intimidated by what, in my opinion, is part of a boardroom-devised plan to dominate the ophthalmic frame and lens market. The following pie chart is my estimate of how people search for their VSP doctor; the numbers are guestimates, but I have used years of extensive knowledge of how search engines work in order to understand how few new VSP patients will come via a small, unimportant directory compared to google and the social internet. The second and third graphs are the Alexa Ranks of the VSP and Google directories – Alexa ranks websites by their popularity in search. The VSP directory is ranked 26,140 and people who visit the site spend three-and-a-half minutes on it. Google ranks #1 out of all the websites in existence and people who visit spend over 14 minutes on it. The Google directory is ranked…ready for this? ….#1…on the entire internet. Yelp is ranked 350 so even sites like Yelp dwarf VSP Premiere in the number of people who use them to find a provider.

Don’t drink the Koolaid

Don’t let this scare tactic determine how you serve your patients or what product mix you offer. Maintain your independence and say no to those who would bully you by forcing you to choose the products that benefit them without regard for what your patients seek from you – your expertise and professional judgement when it comes to the therapies and products you choose for them.

*This was originally a post on ODs on facebook in 2016. Click here to see OP and the plethora of comments in the thread

Alan Glazier
Proud founder of a private practice in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. and I founded this small online community called "ODs on Facebook". I like to connect people.

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