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  • 2022 President Robert E. Wiggins Highlights Challenges for YOs

    Medicine is a constantly developing industry — just ask 2022 Academy President Robert E. Wiggins Jr., MD, MPH. 

    When his practice was acquired in the 1990s, Dr. Wiggins returned to school and obtained a masters degree in health care administration, turning Asheville Eye Associates into one of the premier eye care centers in the nation. 

    Now leading the Academy’s community of 32,000 ophthalmologists, he faces an especially exciting set of new challenges: keeping members up to date on new trends and governmental regulations, advocating for fair physician reimbursement, and educating membership and the entire eye care team about changes in the structure of health care delivery.

    YO Info sat down with Dr. Wiggins to get his take on what matters for YOs — everything from practice management and the pandemic to going lean and advocating for your profession.  

    What should YOs be on the lookout for in 2022? 

    Dr. Wiggins: The good news for young ophthalmologists is that the demand for ophthalmic services is and will continue to be high due to an aging population and the diseases that increase in prevalence with this age group. The future is also exciting in that we are part of a field known for technological advances. I’ve seen many such advances over the course of my career that have improved our ability to diagnose and treat ocular disease and am optimistic that new technology will dramatically enhance the care we provide our patients. 

    One of the biggest trends impacting YOs is the acquisition of private practices by private equity over the past few years. There are pros and cons to these arrangements that need to be explored by the young ophthalmologist.

    Do you see specific challenges for YOs in 2022 relevant to practice management? 

    Dr. Wiggins: Given the changes in practice ownership discussed above, it’s incumbent on YOs to be familiar with the changing structure of ophthalmic practice and the questions they should ask when seeking employment. What will the future look like beyond the first few years of employment? Like all of us, YOs will be working in an environment of physician reimbursement that has declined over time. 

    What has COVID-19 taught us about how ophthalmologists can manage their practices?

    Dr. Wiggins: COVID-19 has taught us that ophthalmologists are resilient! We have adapted our practices to a challenging environment in order to maintain patient flow while keeping our patients and staff safe. We got our feet wet with telemedicine, and although that has diminished since offices reopened, we know telemedicine will have a greater role in our future. We learned how to keep our patients safe with social distancing in the office, how to use our parking lots as an extension of the waiting room, how to improve our history intake before the exam, and how to minimize patient time in the office. We also learned about the use of protective shields at the slit lamp, which should provide protection from respiratory illness of all types once the pandemic is over. Finally, we learned about how to better manage our stress whether related to the pandemic or not. 

    How can the American Academy of Ophthalmic Executives® (AAOE®) be useful for YOs? 

    Dr. Wiggins: The AAOE provides a number of resources for YOs and all ophthalmologists. For YOs especially, there are live and on-demand lectures at the annual meeting that apply specifically to the early years of practice—for example, how to negotiate your contracts and how to identify the pros and cons of private equity. There are also AAOE webinars covering the CMS payment systems, the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Alternative Payment Models (APMs), and how to code properly in order to make sure the value of the work performed is captured for proper reimbursement. 

    AAOE and the YO Committee are jointly sponsoring an upcoming webinar on Fundamentals of Ophthalmic Coding Course on Saturday, Feb. 26 specifically for YOs.  On the expense side, there are tips on how to be more productive in the practice by reducing waste. Participating AAOE members also have access to financial benchmarking data. 

    What can we learn about making practices leaner? 

    Dr. Wiggins: Lean is about reducing waste. Waste is a part of most any process, and health care is no exception. There are many, many processes within an ophthalmology practice, all of which are candidates for evaluation and rework to wring out the waste and improve efficiency. By learning about the eight types of waste — motion, transportation, inventory, waiting, defect, overprocessing, overproduction, human talent — YOs will begin to see it all around them, and once waste is recognized, efforts can be made to eliminate it. YOs really are at a point in their careers to benefit the most by reworking processes to make them more efficient and have a full career ahead to benefit from change. 

    Do you have any goals with respect to advocacy in 2022? 

    Dr. Wiggins: We have many advocacy-related goals that remain the same from year to year, including advocating for fair reimbursement and making sure that ophthalmologists and other surgical specialists are treated fairly in the future. We will continue to advocate to reduce red tape in areas such as prior authorization and to promote our patients’ eye health and safety on a national and statewide basis. There is always much work to be done. Everyone needs to be involved in these efforts — get to know and support your state and federal legislators today!