March 2020

OUTSIDE THE OR

Mobile unit provides eye exams and unexpectedly boosts business


by Vanessa Caceres Contributing Writer




Mobile unit used by Boling Vision Center
Source: Boling Vision Center

 

The staff at Boling Vision Center & INSIGHT Surgery Center had big plans in mind when they conceived of a mobile examination unit to serve those who needed it most in their community.
While the mobile unit has turned into a philanthropic endeavor, it’s also been a business booster for the practice.
In the 1960s, practice founder Richard Boling Sr., MD, was committed to serving the underserved through mission trips, community outreach days, and free care, said Hayley Boling, MBA, COE, who oversees Boling Vision Center now. With that mindset passed on to Ms. Boling’s father, Rich Boling, MD, they decided to pursue what she calls a mega-expansion of their already-established, internal Kindness to Prevent Blindness initiative.
The mobile unit plans took about 5 years of research, planning, and preparations before any patients were served. Staff first identified service gaps within the community, researched nonprofit organizations with whom to partner, and decided if the mobile unit would be a sustainable endeavor long term.
One big consideration was the community’s needs. “The need we saw here was a notable percentage of our community that was underserved when it came to eyecare. The need was even more glaring when we looked at our local, school-aged children who were often not receiving the eyecare they needed,” Ms. Boling said. For instance, if they did a vision screening at school, there was typically a gap in the referral process between the children failing the screening and actually being seen by an eyecare professional for a follow-up dilated exam or to get glasses.
Oftentimes, this group of children ends up being mislabeled as “behaviorally at risk” or “learning disabled” when what they actually need is just better vision, Ms. Boling said.
There also were financial considerations. It cost $250,000 to get the 45-foot mobile RV unit set up, including equipment, dilating drops, electronic medical records, tablets, furniture, and decorations. The practice also needed a vehicle that had towing capacity to take the mobile unit around. Ms. Boling was able to achieve some cost reductions by partnering with local RV companies.
In addition to local partners, national partners have donated items such as frames and lenses. “It’s difficult to quantify the generosity of our donors, but it’s safe to say that this program wouldn’t have been within financial reach without them,” Ms. Boling said.
To help track the mobile unit’s effectiveness, Ms. Boling and practice leaders decided to work for the first year with a group that tracks data collection and management and performs predictive analytics. In addition to insights for the practice, these types of numbers could help other practices or healthcare systems make a case for doing this type of outreach in the future, Ms. Boling said.

Program effectiveness

The Kindness to Prevent Blindness mobile exam unit launched in September 2018, visiting schools and community centers three to four times a week in its busiest season to provide eye exams. In the 2018/2019 school year, the mobile unit served more than 4,000 students and dispensed approximately 1,000 pairs of glasses. So far in 2019/2020, the program has grown more than 400%, Ms. Boling said.
“Not that this kind of growth is always going to happen, but it definitely shows the need for this program in the community,” she said.
Local schools and teachers have noticed a difference among school-aged children. “We received 240 surveys back from teachers and educators, and the surveys documented a 30% increase in reading scores and a 45% decrease in behavior issues,” she said.
The use of volunteers to help from both inside and outside the practice has moved the Kindness to Prevent Blindness program along. These volunteers include doctors from inside and outside the practice, employees and their families, community volunteers (including retired teachers, coaches, and engaged parents), and members of local nonprofits. The chance to help with the mobile unit has also boosted morale for practice team members, Ms. Boling said.
Ms. Boling was surprised by how the mobile unit has garnered publicity and more business for the practice. “We’ve had a variety of organizations reaching out to us to see how they can partner with us because they want to support a practice that invests in the community and is committed to bettering the lives of vulnerable populations,” she said.
The practice has had record-breaking new patient rates while maintaining established patients. In addition, it has had more success in recruiting staff and doctors since launching the mobile eyecare unit.

Pearls for other practices

Think a mobile unit might work well in your market? Ms. Boling shared a few pearls for other ophthalmic practice leaders.
1. Go deep with your research. Identify potential partners, gauge community interest and the market, and determine your start-up and ongoing budget. Whatever that budget is, add a contingency fund to it, Ms. Boling advised.
2. Don’t plan on a cash cow. Although Boling Vision has gotten a sizable business boost from the mobile unit, that won’t be the case in all circumstances. In fact, practice leaders are still looking for an insurance company that will cover the mobile unit as a site or place of service. “This means that everything we have been able to do on the for-profit side has consisted of free screenings and cash-pay services and consultations,” she said.
3. Have a point person on staff for the mobile unit. Adding a mobile unit to the already-busy practice has been a challenge, although Ms. Boling said it’s been worth it. “Our work on the front end makes for a successful back-end operation,” she said. Make sure you have a designated person on staff for the program before any wheels ever hit the ground.
4. Plan where to keep the mobile unit. At Boling Vision, the mobile unit is kept in the employee parking lot during warmer months, and in cold months, they use a bus/semi garage storage area.
5. Learn how to hit the road right. “The biggest challenge we’ve identified so far is navigating the big rig,” she said. They’ve trained several people on how to drive the unit and have developed an operation manual to ensure best practices when driving or setting up the mobile unit for use.

About the source

Hayley Boling, MBA, COE
Chief executive officer
Boling Vision Center& INSIGHT Surgery Center
Northern Indiana

Relevant disclosures

Boling
: None
 

Features of the Kindness to Prevent Blindness mobile unit

•Two examination lanes and related equipment
•An optical finishing lab for onsite glasses dispensing
•A small pre-testing area
•An optical display area
•Two bathrooms
•Handicap accessibility
•Surround sound music
•Large television screens for entertainment

Contact
Boling: HBoling@BolingVisionCenter.com

Mobile unit provides eye exams and unexpectedly boosts business Mobile unit provides eye exams and unexpectedly boosts business
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