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From continuing supply chain issues to private equity acquisitions and consolidation, to staffing issues and finally to an uncertain economy with the looming possibility of recession in the coming months, independent eyecare professionals are carefully navigating their next moves as they look to remain profitable and expand their practices in 2023. To help alleviate some of these pressures and stresses, ECP alliances and buying groups are clearly stepping up their game with new and enhanced programs and services with the goal of helping ECPs navigate their way through a challenging business environment that presents both observed obstacles and unforeseen challenges on the horizon.

In support of their members, alliances and buying groups have developed new tools, services and practice management programs over the past year and appear to have more in store for the remainder of 2023. This support includes easier access to vendors, growing vendor bases and larger discounts along with enhanced services such as human resources services. Practice-building education, access to key opinion leaders and easier payment terms to assist with case flow issues have also been added or enhanced.

Oliver Spandow, chief operating officer at IDOC, said, “One change we see accelerating is an increase in cold starts and new practices opening across the country. We also see continued return to live events. 2023 will bring new technologies, economic challenges, and ongoing staffing opportunities to independent practices.”

“We want to continue servicing our members where they need it the most,” added Ignacio Macias, CEO of CECOP USA, who recently launched its CECOP 60 program for new members to permit additional payment terms.

Independent practices will continue to face significant pressure in 2023, according to Jonathan Worrall, who took over as president of PECAA in January of 2023 after PECAA was acquired last fall by VSP Vision. He cites staffing, training, revenue and cost of goods as challenges independent practices have faced since the pandemic and those which are likely to continue in 2023.

Worrall said, “In addition, the current state of the economy contributes to additional pressure as economists debate the reality and potential severity of a recession. The good news is private practice is still the preferred patient choice.”

In addition to deeper vendor rebates and enhanced loyalty programs rolling out among ECP alliances in 2023, there is a renewed focus on staffing and human resources management tools as independents look to hire and retain the best and brightest personnel.

Acquios Alliance is offering a human resources workshop to help owners and managers “better understand all aspects of HR management,” according to CEO Rick Guinotte. “Too many people believe HR is hiring and firing. But it’s not. It is about hiring the right people for the right position, developing that person to be the success they and the office needs and so much more. Setting up and implementing tools to educate and invest in practices’ most important asset—the employees, which is what makes the great practices stand above.”

Amid challenges ahead for independents in 2023, alliances and buying groups are clearly taking the lead to assist ECPs with innovative new tools and programs that will better help them grow their practices and best serve their patients. Vision Monday reached out to some of the leading U.S. alliance and buying groups for this report.