Building a lasting relationship with your lab.
Everything you wanted to know about your lab, but were afraid to ask.
As optical professionals, its critical to have a great relationship with our patients. A relationship based on understanding and caring. Inter-office relationships are also crucial in providing the best possible care through cooperation and unity. But let’s talk about a relationship that may not get as much attention. That is the relationship with your lab. Are your dealings with your lab a model of collaboration and teamwork or not so much? Let’s make an admission right now. Sometimes there’s more push/pull then there should be. Sometimes we play the blame game a little too often. In the end, it’s important to realize you both have the exact same goal. Patient satisfaction. Your lab, regardless of location or relation, is an extension of you and vice versa. Neither can exist without the other.
So why the rub?
Many times, it comes down to the needs and wants of the patient, not aligning with your labs capabilities and constraints. When your lab can’t make the glasses, they need to be outsourced. This can cause delays. Delays lead to unhappy patients, which in turn leads to unhappy opticians calling the lab. How do we remedy this?
To help you understand what you need to know, I’ve enlisted the help of Chris Ealick. Chris has been in the eyecare business for around 15 years. He got his start as a lab tech at a very well-known one hour processing chain and has since moved into the position of Production Manager for the Eyecare Partners lab in Missouri. His duties include monitoring production, implementing training and serving as a liaison to the retail offices.
His lab services about 250 offices across 10 states and, with an average output of around 1000 jobs per day, Chris has seen just about every situation imaginable. Since he’s worked in a retail office and a lab, it makes him the perfect candidate for this discussion. On a side note, Chris has been somewhat of a mentor to me. I had the pleasure of working for him for years and his intuition for solving optician, patient and lab issues is impressive.
I recently sat down with Chris and asked him, “What are the main factors that delay a pair of glasses and cause uneasy relations between a lab and office?” He explained it like this, “You have to know your labs capabilities. Any given lab can’t make every possible pair of glasses due to various limitations. Once you understand what they can and can’t do, you’ll start to have a truly collaborative relationship ”
Chris has devised a list of questions you should ask your lab to help get you started. If you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able on the same page as your lab and better equipped to inform your patients of any possible delays.
Rx limitations of the equipment, frame and lenses
What are the highest prescriptions (plus or minus) the lab can produce?
Sometimes a labs equipment has limits on the curves it can cut into a lens. If lenses are outside of this range, they may need to be outsourced; adding days onto the process.
What Rx limitations are there on the freeform designs you make?
Rx power and add powers are limited to certain ranges on many freeform designs. While the manufacturers specs are great, the lab may have further limitations based on past experience.
What Lens/Frame combinations cause issues, or are just not possible?
What is the highest power lens (plus or minus) you can put into a high wrap frame?
High wrap frames are very popular, but some prescriptions are just not meant to go in them. For instance, a high minus lens with a very flat base (front) curve won’t fit into a high wrap frame effectively.
What is the Rx range for drill mounts? Do they use compression fittings, Chemistrie clips or nuts and bolts to assemble the drill mounts?
If your lab only uses compression fittings, this is important to know. Due to thickness issues, only certain Rx’s can be used with compression fittings without causing durability issues.
Lens availability and frame condition
What tints, coatings and AR does your lab provide in-house?
For example, if they don’t do in-house mirror coating, that could add 4 or 5 days to the patient’s order; depending on where it gets outsourced to.
What are the labs tinting capabilities?
Some lenses are notoriously difficult to tint. For instance, you don’t want to promise a Grey #3 in polycarbonate to a patient because the lab probably won’t be able to do it. You may need to offer them polarized instead.
What are your policies for Patients Own Frames (POF)? Is there a minimum acceptable condition that they need to be in?
Chris phrased it like this “If the only thing holding a frame together is the face cheese (you know what he’s talking about) caked onto it, it’s probably not going to go well.” If their frames are too beat up to send to the lab, you have the perfect opportunity to show them replacement frames that you carry.
Know their process
How much time does an AR coating add to the process time?
If they only have one machine with a relatively low capacity, it may take a while for your patients glasses to get coated.
What is the timeline for an average job? Do you have a flow chart or diagram that can help me understand how you process the work?
The lab wants you to know these things. They want you to be armed with the best information possible so if a patient asks when their job will be complete, you can give them an accurate estimate. All without picking up the phone.
Communicating patient/eyewear issues effectively
Follow these do’s and don’ts to resolve issues as quickly as possible.
- Write detailed description of the issue. Include the following:
- What was the patient’s complaint exactly?
- Is there anything you can add that might help someone troubleshoot the issue?
- Verify all the critical information.
- Is the Rx correct and within ANSI standards?
- Are the patient measurements correct?
- Provide SOAP (Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan) notes
DON’T Write “Hey, this is the job we talked about the other day.”
Chris, for instance, could talk to 40+ opticians in a day, so don’t count on someone at the lab remembering the specifics of a job off hand. Also, if someone from the lab calls to clarify a note like this, the optician may not remember the details of the job either. This leads to a lot of detective work before you even address the actual issue.
DON’T Return the job to the lab without critical components. The lab may need the frame to re-trace or lenses to resize by hand.
These are just some of the things you should know about your lab. Give them a call and open a dialogue and, if possible, get a tour. Eyecare Partners actually requires their opticians to tour the lab. Just so they can get a better understanding of the process as a whole. Thereby ensuring top notch customer service to their patients.
Empowering yourself with this knowledge will lead to better lab relations and happier patients.