Herzig Eye Institute
It is often said that a person’s eyes are the most precious of all human senses – your very own window to the world. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the ability to see that same beautiful imagery brought into clear focus through advanced laser eye correction surgery can be summed up in three words: Herzig Eye Institute.
As the acknowledged trendsetter in laser vision correction and cataract surgery, Herzig Eye Institute (HEI) was co-founded in Toronto by Dr. Sheldon Herzig and Cherry Tabb in 1996. Prior to meeting one another, Dr. Herzig had been in practice for a number of years and was already widely known as a pioneer within the industry while Tabb had been working as an executive with a U.S. company that was organizing to be first in laser vision correction in the US. Her partners sent her to Canada to find the best surgeon to train their U.S. surgeons while the Food and Drug Administration was approving the new excimer laser technology.
In 1994, Tabb had her eyes treated (albeit by another surgeon) and determined that Dr. Herzig would be the ideal candidate to train U.S. surgeons.
“Dr. Herzig was the perfect to train our surgeons because of his surgical competency, compassionate and ethical manner,” says Tabb. When the American company was acquired by TLC in 1996, Tabb and Herzig decided to go into business together and co-founded the Herzig Eye Institute. As co-founders with common values, they found a unique combination of their individual talents of medical and business expertise. Tabb says, “We make the brand promise of giving people their best vision. Both are passionate about innovations that improve quality of life. Without hesitation, Tabb attributes their impressive success to their competent and dedicated staff. “Without our like-minded, conscientious staff of nurses, doctors, surgeons, we wouldn’t have the reputation or the happy patients. They make us who we are.”
Over the past 20 years, thousands of LASIK, Laser Cataract, and refractive procedures have been performed for patients from all over Canada, 42 states in the US, and more than 23 countries. HEI has built a world-class reputation, resulting in exceptional outcomes far above industry standards. They say it’s because they match the right procedure with the right patient. Patients are treated with technology like I-Design, femto-phaco laser cataract surgery, or the new Symfony intraocular lens to achieve their best vision with the added benefit of improved night vision and getting rid of reading glasses.
For Dr. Herzig and Tabb, providing excellent care and compassion to each patient is always their top priority. It’s an atmosphere of safety and comfort that helps patients know they are in good hands. And that confidence is appreciated by many optometrists and ophthalmologists as well, demonstrated when they send their patients for treatment. “Particularly with the optometrists and non-surgical ophthalmologists it’s a co-managed care,” Dr. Herzig tells us. “They will provide information about the patients and we obviously do our own consultation. I, or one of our other surgeons treat the patients and once we’re satisfied with the outcome, we return them to their referring physician or optometrist and there is ongoing care between the two of us.”
“I always aim to try and find ways to reduce patient waiting lists and to provide eye care in a more patient-friendly environment. I look for ways to combine private and public healthcare so that it’s affordable while at the same time having benefits of being treated in a private centre,” Dr. Herzig says.
HEI is the largest unfunded laser vision correction and cataract centre in Canada, with no government funding for cataract surgery (several large competitors are funded). In fact, in what amounts to a complete reversal, it is Herzig that has effectively subsidized the government by doing cataract surgeries without reimbursement for facility fees. Tabb says they subsidize those surgeries from private pay procedures like Lasik.
“We are an example of how private healthcare, when done properly and transparently, could actually help to alleviate burden on the healthcare system. It forces us to be focused on efficiencies and frugal innovations because we have to. These procedures do not have to be done in hospital. In a climate of cost cutting a rationing of services, it just makes sense for the ministries of health to embrace and fund specialty centres like ours to help alleviate some of the burden,” she explains. “We have tried several times to obtain government funding for cataract surgeries, offering services at lower cost, while maintaining high quality.” Our biggest hurdle has been overcoming the negative biases related to funding private facilities.”
Until funding happens, Tabb and Herzig are committed to fulfilling their mission. For now, their services are for patients who are willing and able to pay for advanced technologies. They are careful to point out that their patients are never charged for services that are covered by province health insurance programs.
The overwhelming response from people who have had one of Herzig’s High Definition Vision procedures is that they wonder why they waited so long to have it done. While it is only natural to have a certain level of anxiety about following through on such an important decision, Dr. Herzig aptly notes that there has to be a relatively high level of frustration for people to want to take action in the first place and advance to the stage where they want to set up a consultation meeting.
“They are balancing that level of frustration with fear,” he mentions. “Almost all of them know of people who’ve had it done and are very happy, so before they even come in their fear level is down. Even on the day of surgery there is a tremendous level of anxiety with some patients, and rightfully so, because it is a surgical procedure. In the consultation process we are very frank about what the risks are and the bottom line is that with the proper procedure the risk is very minimal.”
Laser eye surgery is becoming more mainstream as the comfort level increases due to the exceedingly high success rate of touted by happy patients. The quality of treatment has always been excellent, but new technologies have made it that much better and more refined over the last 15 years. In the past, it was far more about being limited in terms of who could be treated, as opposed to safety concerns. Nowadays, the availability of new procedures extends far beyond LASIK with other types of refractive surgery that can be utilized to treat more difficult patients. The awareness level from the general public is that more and more people are choosing to get out of their glasses and contacts and there is a growing desire by others to do the same.
“One of the differentiation points that I believe we have is that we’re not a one-stop shop. You have a lot of people either popping up or who have been around for a long time that may do just Lasik or just laser vision correction and so they may have a less complete and thorough way of making evaluations because they don’t have all the tools in the tool chest to provide a treatment that is best for the patient,” Tabb says.
Both Dr. Herzig and Tabb emphasize the importance of the patient understanding what treatment procedure fits them the best in order to yield the best results. The medical team have an assortment of options, and they will ensure the very best method is used for each individual. Among the procedures available include: Laser Vision Correction (LASIK or PRK), Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE), Intraocular Collamer Lens (ICL), treatment for presbyopia (loss of reading vision), Laser Cataract Surgery, Retina and Cornea conditions, and Dry Eye.
“Lasik is the most commonly known term but can be confusing for some people when we tell them it’s not the best solution for them. There is something better. It’s that lack of understanding about the process and other safe alternatives that are often recommended when Lasik isn’t optimal. This is why we don’t skimp on the consultation. We provide a thorough, complimentary consultation so we know definitively what procedure will be safest and provide the optimal results,” Tabb adds.
“Obviously the surgeon is important but it’s how you deliver that care that is just as important,” Dr. Herzig adds. “When you walk into our office I think you immediately feel comfortable. It’s very nicely designed, but not over the top. Our staff is trained to make the patient come first and really make them feel comfortable from the moment they are greeted at the door until the time they meet me or one of the other surgeons.”
Both Dr. Herzig and Tabb work on a combined approach where surgeons are not put in a position of discussing costs or payments. They are left to do what they do best – and that is to provide patients with much better vision than they had prior to walking through the front doors. A key element for HEI is that their business decisions are driven by their clinical decisions and they successfully manage to deliver a personable boutique-level of service.
“We have a retina program as well that is strictly government funded but the point is that it reinforces not only our safety and how we treat patients but it really focuses on making sure that we’re taking into consideration the whole eye. We don’t put patients at risk. We’re focused on eliminating risk and helping people to see their best is a very sacred responsibility. Without being able to see properly, you can’t read or drive or play sports. We see it as a tremendous responsibility improve or preserve their vision and regain their quality of life,” Tabb says. “We insist that compassion and timely care must always be the standard and not the exception to the rule. Ultimately, it’s the surgeon being able to deliver the results to the patient and the patient knowing they made the right choice in coming to Herzig Eye Institute.”
With an eye to the future, Dr. Herzig and Tabb want to continue to grow HEI as a Centre of Excellence that will enhance the already well-established brand and have it expand in the form of additional sites. They have been reluctant to do that during down economic times having gone through various market research cycles where they’ve targeted a certain area for expansion but then pulled back because of a recession. Part of intelligent business decision-making is knowing when to make a move and when to bide your time. As far as expanding to multiple sites, that is definitely “on the drawing board.” We’ve spent 20 years developing a brand and a service model that is known for quality. It’s time to unlock that value.”
“The industry is very ripe for consolidation,” Tabb says. “You have a couple of large corporate players and you have other independent surgeons that may be getting on in years, need exit strategies and are exhausted by the constant need to refresh technology.”
“We are poised, now, with a well established brand and service model to grow. We just have to find the right moment and the right partners,” Dr. Herzig says. “It’s challenging. Aside from the economics, maintaining the quality of the brand is paramount. You have to find the right doctors and surgeons in the right area. When you are expanding like that you don’t want to lose the quality.”
HEI has built an incredibly strong direct-to-consumer brand with an ingrained philosophy that a well-educated patient, who knows what their complete menu of options are, is important step No. 1. At the very core of their services, it’s about helping people and improve their quality of life with minimal risks involved.
“We’ve been a gateway into North America for new technologies in the field of ophthalmology that help people achieve their best vision, whether it’s getting rid of their glasses or contact lenses, reading glasses, cataracts, or even their dry eye symptoms. We were first to offer Lipiflow, which treats dry eye symptoms that bother so many people. “One of our biggest challenges is correcting many of the myths that are out there that are perpetuated by healthcare providers themselves,” Tabb says. “Every day I say to someone curious about what we do, “Yes, we do LASIK, Yes, we can help you get rid of your reading glasses, your bi-focals, and your cataracts. Let us educate you and let us help you.”
There is no greater endorsement for how a company is performing than from the clients who have been serviced. Time and time again, Herzig Eye Institute turns out not only satisfied patients, but people who say their experience and the final results far exceeded their expectations. Tabb said, “One of my favourite business icons is Isadore Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotels. He influenced our thinking so much regarding our service model at Herzig Eye Institute. Treat people like you want to be treated and surprise and delight them with service beyond their expectations. That is a standard we aspire to each and every day.”
One of the highlights of both Tabb and Herzig’s career was having the opportunity to take care of Mr. Sharp and restore his vision. To their delight, Mr. Sharp, wrote a letter to Herzig that Tabb proudly hangs in her office.