By Rhiannon Riches
More health funds have partnered with the VSP network in Australia, effectively expanding the potential reach, referrals and marketing opportunities for optometrists who have joined the eye-care network.
HBF, with more than 900,000 members, joined in January and Teachers Health Fund, which has more than 115,000 members, joined in February.
Defence Health, a not-for-profit health fund which provides cover for more than 200,000 members and families of the Australian Defence Force and the wider Defence community, and UniHealth Insurance, a subsidiary of Teachers Health Fund, are joining on 1 April.
Australia’s largest health fund, Medibank, with nearly four million members, and the first fund to join the VSP network, has renewed its contract for 2014.
Optometrists Association met separately in February with representatives of VSP and with the peak association for private health insurers, Private Healthcare Australia. Another meeting with PHA took place in March, to commence a discussion on compliance with PHA members.
Optometrists Association national CEO Genevieve Quilty encourages association members to talk to the association if they are considering joining preferred provider networks.
‘More and more, there are preferred provider arrangements in place as health funds prefer to deal with groups of optometrists rather than one on one, as they have done previously,’ Ms Quilty said.
She says the association’s advice to members is the same as when VSP Neighbourhood Eyecare launched in Australia at the beginning of 2013, in partnership with Medibank Private and VSP-owned General Optical and Monkey Software.
‘Members should think carefully about joining and weigh up the benefits for their individual practice,’ Ms Quilty said.
CEO of General Optical in Sydney, Peter Lewis, says the VSP network in Australia is growing and will continue to do so.
He says there are more than 500 independent optometrists and nearly 400 optometric practices in the network in Australia, operating on ‘evergreen contracts’ that roll from one year to the next.
‘This year we’ve introduced HBF, Defence Health, and Teachers Health Fund, and there are more to come. The health funds understand and support us; they are helping drive their members to the VSP network,’ he said.
Mr Lewis says marketing will continue to increase in 2014 to promote the VSP network eye-care providers and the importance of regular eye care.
VSP is advising optometrists in its Australian network to be aware that Teachers Health Fund has an existing provider network of its own retail optical practices, and some VSP network providers will not be able to participate as a preferred provider in this fund.
In the United States, VSP Vision Care has appointed Terri Wilson as senior vice president of international business development, following Ric Steere’s retirement. Ms Wilson is based at VSP headquarters in California.
Ms Wilson visited Australia in February to meet with General Optical, health funds and organisations including Optometrists Association.
VSP will be releasing new high technology lens products this year, which are proprietary products of VSP Optics Group and will be sourced through its supply chain.
‘Many will be released under the brand Unity Performance Optics, which is the fast-growing lens brand in the USA and is exclusive to independent optometry. Unity will be our high-end, top of the line lens products and treatments,’ Mr Lewis said.
Two new products will be launched on the Australian market in the second quarter this year through the General Optical supply chain. They are a proprietary photochromic lens known as sunsync, and BluTech, a blue light filtering lens which will be available across several lens designs.
BluTech lenses are claimed to provide natural filtering and protection against harmful, high-energy blue light that may cause damage to the eyes and affect the sleep-wake cycle.
Also claiming to offer selective protection from harmful blue light, Essilor launched Crizal Prevencia and Hoya launched BlueControl on the Australian and New Zealand market in 2013.
VSP-owned Monkey Software has been working on enhancing its practice management system, Optomate.
Monkey Software director Chris Monks says the new system, Optomate Touch, has been in development for two years and selected practitioners were trialling it in late March. The new interface is purpose-built for mobile devices responding to touch and gesture.
‘We have designed a completely new back-end and upgraded the user-interface, but it is not dissimilar to the current interface, so it will still look familiar for current users, minimising disruption within the practice,’ Mr Monks said.
The software is tracking for general release in July but that depends on the comments from early trialists. It will be available for optometric practices both in and out of the VSP network, and integration with all major laboratories will be supported.
‘Optomate Touch will offer seamless integration with GenOp’s lab, which is an advantage for practices in the VSP network,’ Mr Monks said. ‘They can download the e-catalogue, which includes GenOp’s frame range. It also includes access to a bespoke GenOp lab ordering facility.’
The new Touch system includes access to a new feature that enables users to track their orders. ‘The software uses VSP technology in the USA; it shows orders tracking through labs here and overseas in real time,’ Mr Monks said.
The process for submitting orders has also been refined. ‘This new system has a faster database. It is 100 times faster than the current technology; it’s reporting is lightning fast,’ he said.
The software is integrated with online Medicare and DVA claiming, HICAPS and TYRO health fund claiming, e-MIMS for medication tracking, Argus Connect for secure document exchange, and MailChimp for large marketing blasts.
Monkey Software previewed Optomate Touch at SRC in Melbourne on 1-3 March.