Eyewell: How to Create a Successful Dry Eye Center

Creating a Dry Eye Center involves addressing a common ocular condition. It requires specialized knowledge, advanced equipment, and a collaborative approach. With dry eye disease affecting millions, establishing a dedicated center can significantly enhance patient care and expand your practice. Here’s a streamlined guide to creating a successful Dry Eye Center.

In the latest episode of the Defocus Media Podcast, Dr. Darryl Glover sits down with the remarkable Dr. Kristen Brown, an optometrist and the Chief Operating Officer and Partner of EyeWell, to discuss her innovative approach to building a Dry Eye Center. From her early career in California to her groundbreaking work on the East Coast, Dr. Brown has been at the forefront of dry eye treatment. In this episode, she shares her journey, the challenges she faced, and the strategies she employed to create a successful Dry Eye Center. Dr. Brown’s insights offer valuable guidance for eye care professionals looking to enhance their practice with specialized dry eye care.

With EyeWell, optometrists can refer patients to a state-of-the-art facility with the most advanced technologies. This allows them to help more patients and grow their practices without any new investment. EyeWell enables practitioners to focus on what they love—caring for patients—while leaving regulatory oversight and management hassles to the EyeWell team. This model allows for outsourcing advanced therapeutics without fearing losing patients and growing a dry eye practice through partner referrals.

The Journey of Dr. Kristen Brown

Dr. Darryl Glover:

So, if you don’t mind sharing one of those, that’d be fantastic. Let’s break it down from the top. What’s the story of Dr. Kristen Brown?

Dr. Kristen Brown:

Sure. Well, I’m a California native. I grew up on the West Coast and attended undergrad and optometry school in Northern California. From there, I thought, “What’s the furthest I can go?” Naturally, I considered the East Coast. So, I headed to the Boston area for residency and spent a year there. I wanted to learn more about ocular disease, but I also wanted an adventure. Moving to the East Coast was about as far as I could go and still be on a coastline.

That brought me to the Boston area a little over 30 years ago. After completing my residency, I thought, “Now what?” I had all this great knowledge and passion for dealing with eye disease. Back then, job opportunities were often found in publications like Optometry Times, delivered in newsprint. I came across a fellowship in ocular disease and thought, “Why not?” I could either stick around or head back to the West Coast. That opportunity set the foundation for my career and shaped how I wanted to practice.

Interestingly, I hadn’t even intended to go to college. I was an athlete, and my coach asked me if I planned to attend college. I wasn’t sure, so she encouraged me, saying, “If you could do this, would you go?” I said, “Sure, sign me up.” My journey made me realize there are many different ways to be smart and follow your interests. I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my entire career.

The Concept and Importance of Co-Management in Eye Care

Dr. Darryl Glover:

I love it. We’re blessed to have you in this amazing profession because you’re doing things that are at the next level. I want to break that down, but I think it’s only right to first talk about how you got into the concept of co-management. This is something discussed in school, but not a lot of time is spent on it. I want to dive deep into this co-management center you’ve created in partnership with iWell. But let’s take it from the beginning. How did co-management come about for you, and why is it important, especially in the context of OD to OMD, optometrists to ophthalmologists? That’s a conversation we need to have to set the foundation here.

Dr. Kristen Brown:

Sure. The term “co-management” gets thrown around often and can have different definitions. What I mean by co-management is collaboration. I think of it as back-and-forth communication. We refer patients for surgery or retina care when it’s beyond our scope, but we often don’t consider what happens next. When does that patient come back? It’s like a handoff without the expectation or coordination of care returning to us as their primary eye care provider.

During my fellowship on the West Coast, it was truly a co-management model. It was a large group of ophthalmologists and optometrists, and we did what we were good at. The surgeons performed surgery, and the optometrists co-managed, communicated, and collaborated with other optometrists who referred patients to us. We acted as liaisons to the center and the surgeons, ensuring that the care and the patient returned to their referring eye doctor.

Often, what’s missing is the follow-through after referral. We refer patients and then move on to the next case. For real co-management to occur, whether between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist or a primary care physician and an optometrist, it’s about communication and prioritizing the relationship. Yes, we will provide excellent care for the patient in our chair, but the priority is maintaining that relationship with the referring doctor.

Overcoming Hurdles in Building a Dry Eye Practice

Dr. Darryl Glover:

So if you don’t mind, could you spend a few minutes discussing some of the hurdles you faced? From a high level, I’m thinking about equipment and marketing, and building those relationships, but I’d love for you to share your insights.

Dr. Kristen Brown:

Those are the top three, along with resources. When I think of resources, I think of capital investment. We’ve calculated that launching a comprehensive eye care center takes between $500,000 and $750,000. One of the things we’re committed to is addressing this from every angle. Patients often come in having tried other therapies and are still progressing and frustrated because not all contributors to their problems have been addressed. To tackle this, you must be committed to people, resources, technology, and the biggest one—time.

None of us have extra time. We’re already stretched thin, focusing on areas like myopia management or specialty contact lenses. My colleagues’ biggest challenge when going in this direction is getting started. They might get a device and start treating dry eye, but it’s so complex and multifactorial. It’s not one-size-fits-all. For instance, investing $100,000 in IPL technology is great, but what if the issue isn’t ocular rosacea?

Many patients get put on plugs and doxycycline without knowing if they have inflammation. Committing to address these issues fully is crucial. It’s not just about the capital investment, though that’s significant; it’s about making that commitment. That’s where I see many doctors fall short. They might get one or two things and then stop there. It’s complex and challenging, and I found myself in a similar position five years ago. It’s about constantly learning and understanding and carving out the necessary time.

We simplified things by creating a model focused solely on dry eye therapy. These patients want to be heard and have someone take the time to investigate their specific problems. Evidence-based practice is essential, but it’s tough with today’s reimbursements and managed care challenges. We chose a more efficient route, not dealing with managed care since most dry eye therapies aren’t covered anyway. We help patients with itemized receipts so they can submit to their insurance for reimbursement.

We separate the doctor’s time from the treatment on the device, which helps us navigate some of the red tape. Patients don’t need a referral from a primary care provider, though we do want to co-manage with their eye care provider. Patients can also schedule directly with us.

Expanding the Eyewell Dry Eye Comanagement Model

Dr. Darryl Glover:

It’s fantastic that she can hear us. What I’d love to do is figure out if someone wants to partner with you, perhaps franchising this concept. I don’t know if that’s something you’re looking at doing, but if you don’t mind, could you spend a few minutes breaking that down? I know there are many folks interested in taking their dry eye practice to the next level or opening something new but don’t know the blueprint. Could you elaborate on that?

Dr. Kristen Brown:

Absolutely. We are very much interested in scaling the concept. Whether we call it a franchise or otherwise, we want to partner with our optometric colleagues and ophthalmologists in the co-management sense and business practice sense. We’d like to have an Eye Well center in multiple cities. We’re careful in our approach and want to work with the right doctors who can develop and maintain a network.

One of the biggest challenges is that doctors want to get involved in dry eye care but don’t have the patient volume to justify it. If they have relationships, trust, and credibility among their peers in their area, that’s a great starting point. We’re open to having those conversations. For example, a woman from London reached out recently, excited to create an Eye Well model. Whether it’s an Eye Well center or something similar, it’s a business model developed with a lot of expertise over a long time.

We’re not just saying, “Here you go.” We’re developing a training program that should be available for doctors who are interested. It’s not just about treating dry eye but also about building an Eye Well-like entity. We’d like to have Eye Well centers in multiple cities across the U.S. and maybe even in London. The best thing to do is contact us and start a conversation.

Learn More About Eyewell: The Power of Advanced Ocular Surface Care

Eyewell pioneers a revolutionary approach to treating dry eye, making ocular surface issues easier to diagnose and manage. Utilizing advanced technology, Eyewell provides comprehensive eye care solutions that are accessible and efficient. Their expert team of eye care professionals is dedicated to simplifying the patient experience, removing the barriers of time-consuming processes and medical red tape. Eyewell ensures that eye care has never felt better by offering cutting-edge treatments and personalized care. Discover the Eyewell difference today and experience superior eye health. Click here to learn more.

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