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This information is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent a product or service endorsement or recommendation by the American Optometric Association

Doctor Spotlight: Mike McAleese, O.D.

Mike McAleese Walmart?

I’m practicing inside of Walmart? Even today it seems an odd and peculiar place to be practicing in the healthcare field.

But if you look at it another way, I am cutting edge, a man with a vision, an early adopter. 

I mean look at Walmart. The division has transformed, in just five short years, from the “Optical division” to the “Professional Services division” to the “Health and Wellness division.” It includes not only optical, but also pharmacy and in-store clinics. In the very near future, Walmart will be a dominant supplier of healthcare services in America.

Mike McAleese is on the cutting edge, on the frontlines of Walmart’s extension into healthcare.

Did I have foresight and vision, or was I just lucky to be affiliated with Walmart at the right moment in time?

Truth is: I was just lucky.

Well, almost.

Back in 2002, I was inside a corporate mall location, as an independent doctor, with poor prospects for continued growth. Fact is, because the location was a franchise, and being managed very poorly by the franchise owner, revenues had been slowly declining for a few years.

My options were few. With the birth of daughters in 2000 (twins- Brianna and Nicole), and 2002 (Courtney), I did not have the capital to open a private practice without substantial borrowing and risk. My wife Evelyn is a full-time mom (and I wouldn’t change jobs with her for all the tea in China. Anytime I have a bad day, I think of my last day alone with the kids, and maintaining the house, and I smile, and realize my job could be a whole lot tougher.) So, being the sole income, I did not want the risk of a private practice.

Mike McAleese I had read in the local paper that a Walmart was being built just four miles away. I had never been inside a Walmart in my life. There were very few stores at that time in New Jersey. But I decided that perhaps this was a good opportunity to move my practice because of the proximity. I contacted Walmart and they said that the store would take two years to complete, if I wanted to wait.  (At that time, they had not even broken ground.) So for two years, I waited. During this time I sat down and wrote a game plan, complete with ideas, costs, and implementation. I gave notice 3 months before the new Walmart was scheduled to open, and began contacting my patient base. I contacted them again at 60 days, and again at 30 days. With the 30 day notice, I started taking appointments for the new location. When we opened, we had 400 exams scheduled for the first month. Practice management software made this communication with my patient base possible.

During the first year, I applied to every managed care panel I could find. I billed medically when appropriate. In 2005, I was one of the first Walmart vision centers nationally to acquire a Stratus OCT, and only the 12th one placed in the entire State of NJ. I also applied for a second lease at a store being built about 12 miles away in Freehold, NJ. We opened there cold in early 2006.

I added locations at NVI inside Walmart and at Sam’s Club in 2007. We now have six doctors in the four-office group practice. All locations have Stratus OCTs which will be upgraded to Cirrus HD-OCTs soon. We are waiting on delivery as I write this. All offices also have pachymeters, retinal cameras, and threshold visual fields. All offices have separate staffing for the doctor, and practice full-scope medical optometry. We are currently converting to a paperless EMR platform from Liquid Software Designs, called LiquidVision. Later this year, we will add digital imaging systems from TelScreen in each office, and also develop a practice website.

Today, each doctor office is affiliated with an optical that has over a million dollars in optical sales, or will break that benchmark in this fiscal year. My group is one of the largest group practices affiliated with Walmart in the country today.

Mike McAleese Exam numbers have experienced double digit growth every year since 2004. This is directly attributable to having EMR capability which provides for a strong recall and marketing system.
I owe much to Matt Herlevic. During the first few years, I hit a couple of rough spots, many of which are common to all Walmart optometrists. Because of his advice and counsel, I am still with Walmart, and have four offices. Through Matt, I realized that the folks at Home Office truly want doctors to succeed inside their stores, and are people who want to work with the doctors. Our goals are not mutually exclusive. Matt Herlevic, Matt Dehn, Priti Patel, and Mark Travis have all been a part of my success and I say “Thank you” to each of them.

As I achieved some measure of professional success, I developed a desire to help other optometrists succeed as well. Looking back, I think this desire was born because I wanted to say “thank you” to Walmart and Home Office for their help over the years. I feel many ODs want to start the journey I have taken, but cannot find the path. So I started two groups here on the Walmart website. One, “Building a Medical Model in an Optometric Practice,” provides some useful information for anyone trying to grow their practice beyond vision plans, walk-ins, and “Which is better, one or two?”

In 2009, I developed and presented workshops sponsored by Carl Zeiss Meditec. Hopefully, we’ll be continuing these informative seminars in 2010. We are still developing a schedule for this year.
I’ve also started a Walmart/Sam’s club doctor group here in New Jersey.  While we’re still in our infancy, I believe this group will be a fantastic resource for our New Jersey doctors in the coming years. I’ve had the honor of meeting the doctors in the Atlanta and Houston groups, and I am proud to be part of the same Walmart community as these quality doctors. If your state does not have a Walmart/Sam’s Club doctor group, you should take the initiative and start one. Contact me if you need help or advice!

Over the past few years, as I’ve attended or spoken at various meetings, the one question I get is “Where do I start?” 

Mike McAleese I would advise starting with a good EMR platform. With today’s managed care participation, almost all EMR’s have an auto-coding feature which will audit your records for proper documentation prior to being submitted to a clearinghouse. After looking at several EMR programs, my group recently signed with Liquid Vision from Liquid Software Designs which will network all four offices on the same platform. Using this software, the office will be paperless, and all diagnostic equipment will be integrated into this platform. Prior to Liquid Vision, we were using a single-user EMR station in each office.     
     
Having the auto-coder ability avoids problems with potential audits. It also helps the novice properly and accurately bill for services. While some billing and coding knowledge is necessary, it certainly assists the doctor with managed care participation.

Along with a good EMR platform, I would also advise doctor’s to sign with every medical panel they can.

Later, as the revenues grow, you can add an OCT, a camera, and any other cool toy you can imagine. Don’t let years go by before you decide to transform your practice. Start today.

In conclusion, if you have a question or need a resource, contact Home Office, a colleague in your area, or feel free to contact me. My office number is 732-918-8075. My email is EyeDocNJ@aol.com.