Home Design Inspirations Doctor Starts Strong, Even Without Accepting Managed Vision Plans

Doctor Starts Strong, Even Without Accepting Managed Vision Plans

Dr. Sara Varghai stands in her optical - she discusses using medical insurance/cash pay only.
Dr. Varghai

Sara Varghai, OD, FAAO, never planned to open a new practice in the middle of a pandemic. But working in a more retail-oriented practice, she wasn’t seeing the medical patients she wanted to. “So I decided to open my own practice,” she says. Dr. Varghai opened NOVA Optique + Eyecare in March 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. 

She wanted to practice differently. For one, she didn’t want to deal with vision plans, so she decided to create a cash only and medical insurance business. “I hear my colleagues lament how much of a discount they have to take from vision plans. They are working harder to make the same amount of money,” she says. 

And it’s not just about the bottom line. Rather than spend time talking about what their plan covers or doesn’t cover, she and her staff can focus on providing a higher level of care, she says. “We’re educating patients about their eye care needs, or I can offer them the best products for what they want or need, without worrying about what their costs or my reimbursement might be,” she says. 

That level of attention she provides has become a differentiator in an area where there are a half dozen practices within one mile. She carries independent frame lines that allow her patients to get that unique look they want. And she schedules only one patient per hour. When she worked in practices with a faster pace of scheduling, she felt like she was not getting to know her patients as well. 

Choosing not to take managed vision plans was “scary at the beginning, But I built up slowly, so growth reinforced that patients wanted this,” she says. Still, it wasn’t always easy. “There are growing pains in any new practice, and there were months when I was a little afraid. But I always felt confident that this was the way to go. 

On her website, she describes how she will gladly see patients with vision insurance and how that works as an “open-access provider…If you provide us with a few pieces of information, we are able to pull your insurance eligibility and coverage and let you know how much your insurance will reimburse you.”

CAPTURING SALES

She does use Anagram, an online platform that allows doctors to verify in-network and out-of-network benefits and even submit out-of-network claims. This system has helped them capture sales with patients who might otherwise have sought out their eyewear somewhere else.

In order to serve her medical patients, she has been credentialed with Medicare and several of the large medical carriers. “I’m passionate about the medical care, but I love fashion. Eyeglasses are jewelry. I wanted a medical practice in a retail spot with heavy foot traffic,” she says.

Indeed, the medical component is nearly hidden from view, as a passersby would see only the reception area and optical looking through the windows. That’s why she made the “+ Eyecare” part of her practice name. But if Dr. Varghai adds a dry eye clinic as she’s hoping, that will also help drive traffic. 

Another important component of the practice that helps patients connect is its engagement in the community. Not only is “giving back” a tab on the website, but her efforts are also increasing awareness about the practice. “We partner with the Arlington Free Clinic, where we donate our time and services,” she says. The practice sees four patients per month who are referred by Arlington Free Clinic staff. Dr. Varghai provides exams and eyewear if needed, and she’ll let the clinic staff know if the patient needs to be seen by a specialist. 

Dr. Varghai started her career as an optician and then became a technician through LensCrafters. After optometry school, she worked in a Veterans Administration hospital. She loved working with those patients, she says, and it built her desire to focus on a medical practice. 

In her practice, Dr. Varghai says she is finding the freedom to practice the way she wants, with a product and service mix and the pacing that she believes her patients desire. 

There may be a time when Dr. Varghai will take vision insurance. Never say never, but for now, she says she has no regrets with this model. “I value the care that I bring. I saw what was possible in this time and area,” she says, noting that the more upscale demographics and the large number of federal government employees means that many have been able to afford her services. 

 

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