Editor's note: Originally written for AAO 2014, this piece has been revised to focus on exhibit advice more generally.
Simply navigating the world's largest ophthalmic exhibition can be overwhelming. With more than 600 booths to explore, it’s home to almost every product and service in the industry. Don’t feel daunted though — this month, members of the YO Info editorial board and the YO Committee provide tips on deciding what gadgets to buy at the Academy's annual meeting.
- “There are two main avenues when considering a new purchase: Is the purchase going to improve the efficiency or productivity of the practice? Does this purchase improve the marketability of the practice and drive business to the door? Deciding how to split resources into these two categories is important. If a practice is growing or a provider wants to work fewer hours, the provider is a scarce resource and productivity should be the main concern. However, if a provider is the abundant resource, marketing should be the primary goal.” — James G. Chelnis, MD, oculoplastics fellow at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
- Analyze your clinical and surgical needs. “A new equipment purchase should not be taken lightly. One should always ask two key questions: Does it help me do a better job as a clinician/surgeon than what I’m doing currently? What is the return on investment? The former question is more important than the latter, but in these days of narrow margins of profitability, both are very important.” — Edward H. Hu, MD, PhD, cataract specialist in Peoria, Ill.
- Run the numbers. “Take a look at how many potential times per month you would appropriately bill for the services performed with the product and how long it would take to get a return on the investment. And be sure to prioritize what your office really needs. It might be tempting to get a massage chair for the waiting room, but it might be much more profitable to get an OCT!” — Natasha L. Herz, MD, cataract and refractive surgery specialist in solo practice near Washington, D.C.
- Research your options. “Ask the salesman for a pro forma of the device that you are interested in purchasing. This is merely a guide but can help you when making a larger investment. And be sure to do your homework before the meeting — this can give you a significant advantage in reaching the best deals. Through it all, though, don’t feel pressured to make a purchase decision at the meeting.” — Robert F. Melendez, MD, MBA, comprehensive ophthalmologist in Rancho Rio, N.M.
- Plan your exhibit visit. “Make a list of what you are considering purchasing and identify the vendors and their floor locations on the exhibitor floor map. And be as efficient as possible by having your questions prepared ahead of time.” — Jeff H. Pettey, MD, comprehensive ophthalmologist in Salt Lake City
- Test before you buy. “Ignore the glitz of the exhibition floor when making purchases. Use the meeting as an opportunity to meet your local sales representatives for companies and then demo the products in your office before purchasing. Some pieces of equipment are large capital investments and you want to make sure they work well in your real-world practice environment.” — David E. Vollman, MD, MBA, assistant professor and assistant residency program director at Washington University in St. Louis
- Shop early, sign late. Vendors have sales goals. If these goals are not met, some vendors can offer more generous deals toward the end of the meeting. And if the item you want sold out, most vendors will price match and mail your new toy to you. — Christopher P. O’Brien, MD, MBA, MPH, comprehensive and pediatric ophthalmologist in Knoxville, Tenn.
- Avoid the crowd. The annual meeting is an exhausting marathon for the exhibitors. You’ll get more attention and waste less time by avoiding peak hours. A booth that is swamped at 10 a.m. may be completely empty at 11 a.m. — CO
- Keep your receipts. Most equipment and educational purchases are tax deductible. Residents have the option to carry forward these tax credits to future higher-earning years. — CO
Preview the Exhibition
Before arriving for the meeting, check out the Virtual Exhibition, where you can search by booth, company name, product categories, medical specialties, common equipment terms and basic ophthalmic conditions. Build an account, log in and then tag the exhibitors you plan to visit. You can print out your personalized exhibitor list before stepping into the exhibit hall.
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About the author: Mike Mott is a former assistant editor for EyeNet Magazine and contributing writer for YO Info.