How to make in-office edging work for your practice
When I opened my private practice in April 1997, I made sure that I kept my fixed expenses as low as possible. I did this so I could pay my bills and maintain a viable business. I added “bells and whistles” as I could afford them. The first of these additions was a used patternless edger.
I found the edger on the Optcomlist after I posted a message requesting used edging equipment. The edger I purchased was 8 years old at the time, but in good working condition. After having it serviced by a technician sent by the manufacturer, I was in the edging business.
The newest patternless edgers are simple to operate. All they require is a basic understanding of lensometry and lens layout. All of the actual edging is done by the edger, allowing “hands-off edging.” The older edgers may require more mechanical skill to operate so be sure that you or the staff member who’s going to do the edging is up to the task.
Either way, it’s important that you’re committed to doing your own edging. If you are, it can be very rewarding both professionally and economically. Here we’ll look at some of the benefits an edger has added to my practice.
Why would anyone want to purchase a rather expensive piece of equipment and take on more work to provide eyewear to their patients? The first reason: savings.
The greatest savings is for single vision jobs. It’s easy to find single vision plastic lenses with scratch coating as well as single vision polycarbonate lenses for less than $5 per pair, and high index lenses for $20 per pair. Compared to the usual cost for a similar finished job from a wholesale lab you can save up to $15 for plastic, $25 for polycarbonate and $30 for high index.
Bifocal and trifocal lenses are also quite a bit less expensive unfinished than finished, but the savings aren’t as dramatic as with single vision lenses. I save between $7.50 and $15 for bifocal and trifocal lenses. The savings for progressive lenses are between $15 and $40 depending on the lens design and material.
The savings over a month can be quite considerable and over a year can be amazing. You’ll have to account for some breakage when you do your own edging, but I’ve found that it’s still a winning financial proposition.
Better patient service
Another reason to add edging to your practice is to provide better service to your patients. Having the lab do your edging requires sending the frame to the lab, having the lenses surfaced and edged and then sending the completed job back to your office. While express delivery and courier services have shortened the time to “turn a job around,” it still takes 3 to 5 days.
With most labs, surface jobs can be shipped that day or early the day after you place the order. This gets the surfaced lenses into your hands in 2 days. When using a patient’s own frame, you also don’t have to take the frame from the patient to send it to the lab for edging. This is beneficial to the moderately nearsighted or farsighted patient.
It’s also advantageous to stock single lenses in the most common parameters. I’ve stocked single vision polycarbonate lenses from +2.00 to -4.00 with up to 1.5D of cylinder, letting us do sameday or next-day work for most of our single vision patients. This has been a great practice builder. An added bonus: when you buy lenses in this type of bulk, it saves even more money on the lenses. I made a bulk purchase of these lenses for $4.20 per pair.
A marketable advantage
Many doctors overlook the internal and external marketability of having an in-office edger. Along with the ability to turn jobs quicker, you’re also more in control of the quality of work that your lab produces. Patients are impressed when they know that the final assembly of their eyewear will occur in your office.
Having in-office edging also lets you compete with many commercial eyewear outlets, usually providing quicker service at a lower price without sacrificing quality. I’ve added a line about our edging ability and the fact that we stock lenses to our small Yellow Pages ad. I also mention it in our quarterly newsletters and in any direct mail pieces that my office sends out.
A careful decision
I’m happy with my decision to purchase a patternless edger. But adding edging isn’t for every practice. Be sure to analyze your practice’s optical job volume, whether you’ll have to add staff and whether the major managed care panels you’re on will even let you use your edger.
You’ll have to anticipate your volume of jobs per month to see if you can cover the expense of the unit (either loan/lease payments or cost of opportunity capital) and its operation costs.
Will you have to add staff to perform your edging? Adding staff might cut into the savings per job too much to make the figures work. If you use existing staff, ask yourself if you want to take this time from the staff’s schedule.
Will you use your edger for the majority of your optical work? Vision Service Plan, for example, doesn’t let you do your own work.
Do you have space (and the proper plumbing and ventilation) to add an edger without a major renovation?
Do you want the responsibility of doing your edging “in-house?”
Dr. Warren practices in Racine, Wis. He worked in an optical lab for a year while in optometry school.
Copyright Boucher Communications, Inc. Mar 1999
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