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With more challenges and competitive pressures for independent eyecare professionals to meet and overcome today, there’s also been a raft of changes among the alliances and buying groups that work to help these ECPs navigate the turbulent times. These alliances have done their research and overhauled their offerings as they remake themselves to better meet the needs of independent eyecare practices.

Indeed, ECP alliances have developed new tools, resources and practice management programs to support their members. And they’ve looked to add more vendor partners and bring better pricing and rebate programs to the market.

This evolution has come to the fore over the past two years as practitioners dig deeper and review the support programs that come with being part of a larger organization and the sense of community that alliances are known for providing.

As a result, alliances and buying groups report that they have seen increased interest and involvement by members and prospects over the past year. A number of new organizations, seeing an opening in the market around the idea of supporting the independent eyecare community, have launched their new models and are finding success.

Alliances have always been a major part of the eyecare sector, with one-third of doctors belonging to either two or three different groups, Jobson Research has found.

What these groups offer ECPs are benefits such as purchasing discounts, practice management advice and marketing assistance. And now, in response to an even more challenging environment, they have evolved to provide an array of different tools and services. Their services have expanded to include practice-building education and other support tailored to the private practitioner.

Among the key challenges facing independent practices today are the issues around recruiting and training, along with having the ability or infrastructure to build systems that drive strategic objectives. This is key to developing high-performing teams. In today’s eyecare environment, the alliance can systematize employee recruitment and training. In some instances, the alliance group can use an aggregated number of employees to find and negotiate employee benefits at a more advantageous rate (the number of employees across the alliance’s membership is larger and more valuable to a benefit provider than the number in a single practice).

A clear opportunity of the alliance is to develop and implement training modules that drive the systems of best practices and patient care with the objective of achieving enthusiastic satisfied patients in concert with financial performance outcomes.

Asked whether current circumstances are driving increased interest from ECPs, IDOC president and chief executive Dave Brown noted that he believes there are “two schools of thought amongst ODs” about the benefits and value of participating in an ECP group. “For some, they focus on cost savings, rebates and discounts and move from one alliance to another to find the latest offer and latest savings,” he said. “Other practices avoid this trap and focus on the big picture to take advantage of what [some alliances] can offer.”

Brent Alvord, chief development officer at CECOP USA, said he believes the way many alliances and other groups have evolved is a boon to the independent eyecare community, which is beset by so many threats in today’s market. This runs the gamut from online disruptors, private equity consolidators, retail chains, managed vision care, and even a practice’s own lack of optimization.

“I think the global environment is still experiencing some supply chain issues, rising interest rates and inflation,” he added. “In addition, the war in Ukraine just provides a cloud of uncertainty. However, our experience is that many eyecare professionals are resilient and hopeful. They aren’t hindered by pessimism because their focus is still on helping their patients’ vision. We are blessed to be in this industry that is both a need and a want for the consumer,” Alvord said.