Lifestyle cooperative poised for growth as U.S. population ages

September 15, 2014

The self-pay, lifestyle health care market is poised for huge growth as the population of the United States ages. A new cooperative offers a host of tools and services to help board-certified ophthalmologists capitalize on opportunities in the self-pay market.

 

Take-Home

The self-pay lifestyle health care market is poised for huge growth as the population of the United States ages. A new cooperative offers a host of tools and services to help board-certified ophthalmologists capitalize on opportunities in the self-pay market.

 

By Ron Rajecki

Newport Beach, CA-Board-certified ophthalmologists who have grown weary of working harder for less reimbursement now have help in building a new business niche in the self-pay market.

Billing itself as “the first self-pay, lifestyle health-care company,” Alphaeon Corp. offers services and technologies designed to give consumers greater choice, more personalized outcomes, and uncompromised service for their wellness, beauty, and performance needs, according to Robert E. Grant, chief executive officer (CEO).

It also offers board-certified physicians in three specialties-ophthalmology, dermatology, and plastic surgery-a new path to success in their practices.

The cooperative is a wholly owned subsidiary of growth equity firm Strathspey Crown Holdings LLC, of which Grant is chairman and managing partner. The company's management team includes a number of members with a strong background in ophthalmology:

• Chairman William J Link, PhD, founded and served as CEO of Chiron Vision and president of American Medical Optics

• Grant served as CEO and president of Bausch+Lomb Surgical and president of Allergan Medical

• CFO Mitch Hill is a former CFO of Visiogen

• Chief Technology Officer David Mordaunt served in the same role with Bausch + Lomb and also as CEO of OptiMedica and Precision Light.

 

According to the cooperative, the self-pay product market is the fastest growing segment in health care, representing a $20 billion opportunity. Helping board-certified specialists access that market is its goal.

“Our goal is to make health care all about the patient rather than the payers,” Grant said. “The only way to do that is by putting doctors in a more prominent role. We want to restore the doctor-patient relationship and place the focus on making the right decisions for the patient, rather than leaving those decisions in the hands of insurance companies. If you can take insurance reimbursement out of the equation, you can rebalance the deck in favor of doctors and their patients.”

Concierge services

The national cooperative allows board-certified specialty physicians to provide concierge services to self-pay patients. However, Grant stressed that the company is not a franchise operation-it wants its members to remain independent medical practices that simply take advantage of the benefits offered by being part of the group.

“We never want to own practices,” he said. “If fact, our members own us and direct our decisions.”

The tools and services the cooperative provides are based on input from members. What the members tell the management team they need to be successful in the self-pay market is what management will seek to find for them. Members are never compelled to buy any of the products that are made available to them.

There will be many technological exclusives, Grant promised. Early examples include exclusive U.S. licenses from Schwind to market the Amaris excimer laser system and from Visiometrics to market the HD Analyzer.

 

Sands of time: Why now?

Why is the time right for a health-care lifestyle cooperative? For some, it’s simply a matter of the march of time.

“As we are living longer lives, as consumers and patients, the need for us to have a better quality of life is increasing,” said Robert E. Grant, chief executive officer of Alphaeon. “We don’t want to look old forever, and we don’t want to feel old forever, so we are willing to invest in life enhancements.”

The same patients who would be getting beauty interventions often are the same patients facing challenges, such as presbyopia, dysfunctional lens syndrome, cataracts, and glaucoma, he noted.

“Most of the issues patients face in ophthalmology tends to be in their aging years, and we see ourselves as a company that's well-positioned to assist those patients in their anti-aging needs,” Grant said.

 

A member’s experience

Vance Thompson, MD, founder of Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls, SD, said he has long seen the value of focusing on the self-pay lifestyle segment of the market, and he has discovered that it can benefit a practice in unexpected ways.

“I learned many years ago that patients are willing to invest in their health care for things that are not reimbursed by their insurance,” Dr. Thompson said. “So, out of a fascination with refractive surgery as well as a deep desire to please my patients, I decided to make that a practice focus. Some things came out of it that I didn’t expect.”

One was that it not only did it make for a healthy practice financially, it also allowed Dr. Thompson to invest in advanced technology that benefitted both the self-pay side of his practice and the insurance side of his practice.

“Even my Medicare and Medicaid patients could benefit from the technology that I could afford because of the self-pay patients,” he said.

So when Alphaeon was started with a mission to help practitioners with the lifestyle side of the business, Dr. Thompson was quick to get onboard. He points out that the journey to build a successful refractive surgery practice is not easy, in part because there is not much support to teach physicians how to market a practice, educate patients, and create an exceptional patient experience.

“Many companies are good at servicing a practice with quality technology, but how to develop the self-pay side of the practice which involves a lot of business and marketing acumen-was something that I had to roll up my sleeves and do on my own,” he said. “I learned from my peers when I could and my mistakes when I had to.”

Today, he cannot imagine why a fellow ophthalmologist would not take advantage of a health-care lifestyle cooperative such as Alphaeon, which has made it its mission to help board-certified specialists develop the lifestyle side of their practices without the trial and error he endured.

“Contact a peer who is affiliated with [the cooperative] to learn what it has done for his or her practice,” he advised. “Then talk to [the cooperative itself]. If you’re looking to add high-end self-pay products and services to your practice, there’s no better place to start.”

 

Giving a shout out

Perhaps the biggest benefits that members will garner will likely be the interactions they will have with others members, which is included in ShoutMD, one component of the suite of software tools members can access.

ShoutMD is a unique way for specialists to communicate combining elements of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, said Shareef Mahdavi, ALPHAEON’s chief marketing officer.

“It offers doctors a network where there’s no advertising and no one restricting their freedom of speech,” Mahdavi said. “When they post a question, or a “shout,” they have access to a network of more than 1,000 board–certified specialists who can provide information and advice. And we think it will be 3,000 or more by the end of the year. It’s like having partners for advice available 24 hours a day.”

“In addition, ShoutMD is fun,” Grant added. “The more relevant shouts the members post, the more likes they get; the more likes they get the more points they accrue; and the more points they accrue the better price they get on all of our products.”

Other software tools in the suite include TouchMD, which builds consumer awareness and helps patients’ decision making; TrackMD, an inventory management system; Engage MD, which allows for patient relationship management; and FinanceMD, in which ALPHAEON Credit assists patients in moving forward with cash-pay or self-pay procedures. The starting point for board-certified physicians who are interested in becoming part of the cooperative is ShoutMD.

 

Expanding members

About 400 of the health-care lifestyle cooperative’s current 1,000 members are ophthalmologists, and the company is now expanding to cosmetic dentistry and orthopedics. There is no cost to join but physicians must be board-certified.

“We’re not exclusionary, but we are an entity with high standards,” Grant said. “Self-pay customers have high expectations and the experience must match those expectations. Plus, we believe the best way to protect the long-term viability of any type of elective procedure is through patient satisfaction.”

Member companies support each other in the goal of achieving unparalleled patient satisfaction, Mahdavi added.

“They realize that when they band together through this cooperative, they have a much greater opportunity to grow the market,” he added. “Outstanding outcomes and exceptional patient experiences will make for a bigger pie and give physicians the opportunity to be a part of something that’s bigger than their own practices.”