For more than 20 years, Ray Mays has been the CEO of Eye Centers of Tennessee, the leading eye care provider in the Upper Cumberland region of East and Middle Tennessee. The practice has grown from a small, one-physician office to a premier provider with nine locations, 15 physicians, and over 150 support staff members.
“Despite being located in rural areas, our facilities are equipped with the same leading-edge technology and equipment you’d find in much larger markets in university hospitals across the United States,” Ray said. “We are firm believers that our friends and neighbors across the Upper Cumberland deserve just as much access to world-class healthcare as those in bigger cities, and we consider it our duty to evolve our eyecare business to meet our community members’ needs.”
Trust Leads to Success for Eye Centers of Tennessee
According to Ray, Eye Centers’ success can be attributed to its commitment to building lifelong, trusting relationships with patients and their families.
“In everything we do, we are aiming to build and maintain trust with our patients,” Ray said. “When you are making decisions in the best interest of the patient, you build trust. Trust builds loyalty, and loyalty leads patients to come to you for all of their needs. If a parent has a great experience here, they’re likely to bring their child to see us when that child needs glasses. Or maybe they’ll come back to us in their later years as they develop eye health symptoms that often come with aging.
“We all know that the modern healthcare system can present frustrating experience after frustrating experience for consumers,” Ray continues. “This means that as providers, leaders, and support staff members within a healthcare organization, we have the unique opportunity to make it better. We see it as a part of our duty of care to invest in these efforts, and our business is rewarded with lifelong customers who refer their family and friends.”
Building Trusting Relationships That Last
With the understanding that building trust with patients is the primary driver for Eye Centers’ continued growth, Ray explained numerous ways in which physicians and support team members uphold this mission — and even explained that leading the organization in a way that inspires staff members to trust in leadership is a critical component of success.
“Trust has to be at the foundational level of everything we do,” Ray said. “First and foremost, our staff has to trust company leadership. They have to trust that we have their best interest in mind, that we are going to pay them on time, in the correct amount, in the correct way. They have to trust that if they make a simple mistake, their manager will help them learn from the problem, solve it, and move on, rather than being berated. All of these small actions, rooted in trust, keep people happy. They build their confidence and help them feel connected to the organization, encouraging them to treat our patients in the same caring and trust-building ways.”
Other ways Eye Centers establishes a relationship of trust with patients include:
- Maintaining ownership. Although many providers across the country have sold to private equity firms, Eye Centers of Tennessee has made a deliberate effort to stay local, enabling the leadership team to retain decision-making capabilities. For patients, this means that decisions regarding services and care are being made by people who are interacting with them and their community daily.
- Keeping calls and billing in-house. “It is no secret to any healthcare provider that billing and insurance issues are some of the most convoluted and frustrating elements of care for patients,” Ray said. “We employ truly phenomenal professionals with hundreds of years of combined experience to handle these needs. They aren’t just good at their jobs; they are great at their jobs — and they stick with our patients until their questions are answered and their needs are addressed.”
- Being on time. According to Ray, for a patient to trust a practice, that practice has to demonstrate a level of respect to that individual. Every interaction a patient has with a practice sends a message and being on time with appointments is a critical way to send a message of respect.
“Sure, there may be unexpected, complicated cases that come along or issues that present challenges during the day — we have all experienced these scenarios,” Ray said. “But we are able to overcome those challenges by ensuring every team member understands the mission he or she is setting out to achieve, as well as the process for what to do if something interferes with that mission.
“If your appointment is at 10 a.m., I want someone calling your name at 10 a.m.,” Ray continued. “Because we focus on our mission of delivering world-class healthcare and don’t get sidetracked from that mission, we are able to really deliver on our commitment to remaining on time.”
Staying on Top of Advancements in Care
Eye Centers’ first office opened in 1988, and the organization’s growth and longevity serve as evidence of leadership’s approach to advancements in care.
“For us, it’s all about staying on top of what it is that our patients want and need,” Ray said. “Especially in the current environment in which new technologies, medications, and techniques are being developed almost daily, it is so easy to become distracted or even overwhelmed by all the options in the market. Our team is able to stay focused because we are so in tune with our patients’ needs.”
But that focus is not without a deep commitment to research.
“Our physicians and managers are reviewing new literature every week,” Ray said. “When we find something of interest, we talk about it as a group to see if it’s something we want to explore further. Part of our duty of care to our patients and maintaining their trust is ensuring that we’re not just providing what was best last year. We make sure that we’re exploring all options and remaining open-minded about new offerings — whether that’s equipment, medications, or procedures — that could better our patients’ lives.”
Looking Into the Future for Eye Centers of Tennesse
Ray explained that when it comes to the future for Eye Centers of Tennessee, the organization is prepared to continue caring for the Baby Boomer generation, a group that still has seven more years of individuals turning 65. At this age, patients are entering into a phase of life during which they need reading glasses and often develop age-related eye conditions such as cataracts. Although Ray explained that Eye Centers’ “crystal ball is no better than anybody else’s,” the team plans to rely on their experience, their medical expertise, and their commitment to delivering world-class eye care to solve future challenges that may arise.
“In all that we do, we have truly focused on falling in love with our patient and not our product,” Mays said. “What I mean by this is that we truly love our patients and the process of getting them whatever it is they need to achieve a level of comfort and eye health, rather than falling in love with a technique that may not be right for everyone or a piece of equipment that may not address the kinds of needs our patients are experiencing.
“This patient-first approach has enabled us to evolve, to grow, and to serve patients for life. Regardless of advancements in technology or medications, we will continue delivering care by first asking, ‘What is best for our patient?’ And I know that because of that, our practice will continue to thrive.”