Staying 20/20 in 2020
VEI is at the leading edge of ophthalmology, helping to maintain people’s eyesight with its team of expert clinicians, innovative technologies and sizeable footprint across the eastern seaboard of Australia
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Callam Waller
It’s hard to truly comprehend how sight is actually possible.
Our eyes are woven from 107 million cells that are each sensitive to light; this intricate natural system of photoreceptors and electric impulses illuminates the incredible biosystem that allows us to see.
For James Thiedeman, a curiosity of this complex structure was understandably too hard to ignore.
“I was interested in the miracle of the human body from a very early age,” he explains. “I’ve always found the complexity and interdependence of the various anatomical and physiological features of the body to be amazing and perplexing.”
Resultantly pursuing a career in the health sector, Thiedeman has spent the past 30 years in healthcare administration and management, now standing as the CEO and Managing Director of Vision Eye Institute (VEI).
“I jumped at the chance to take the reins at VEI; I couldn’t turn this opportunity down,” he continues.
“VEI was the world’s first publicly listed ophthalmic company and one of the earliest publicly listed group medical practices, so it has a very interesting history. When I joined, it had also recently been acquired by a large Beijing-based parent company – Jangho Group – and the chance to work with a highly motivated, entrepreneurial owner was the clincher for me.”
Today, the enterprise is renowned as the largest holistic provider of ophthalmic care in Australia, partnering with leading clinicians across 27 sites in key locations across the country that allow it to be at the leading edge, offering the best range of evidence-based treatments to its patients.
“What differentiates us? Our scale and strong innovation culture that attracts the highest calibre of ophthalmologists, optometrists, orthoptists, nurses and support staff, culminating in brilliant care for our patients,” says Thiedeman.
Currently, the company’s employee base totals 500 with a further 100 or so doctors, this team of dedicated professionals delivering care to more than 100,000 patients every year.
Catering to such a vast number of people is not viewed as a burden by the team, however. Rather, it is an activity that its people truly cherish as is reflected in a recent culture survey. Thiedeman affirms: “The feedback from the VEI team on the satisfaction they gain from delivering life-changing services was particularly pronounced in this survey.
“Our people set the tone and demeanour when it comes to interaction with our patients and their loved ones, so maintaining the right organisational culture is a fundamental dimension of our strategic planning. Our team are proud to be working for us, which ultimately leads to better care for our patients.”
Indeed, this latter point is the primary motivation for VEI. The company is constantly striving to improve the patient journey, with a focus on meeting individualised needs and minimising friction points for patients and their carers.
“We follow simple measures like having detailed information in plain English about common eye disorders and available treatments on our website, all the way through to giving select patients the option of booking appointments online and receiving video instructions in the post consultation and post-surgical care phases,” adds the CEO.
“One’s eyesight is extremely precious and personal, and the impact of deterioration of visual acuity affects every patient differently.
“For those living alone, a deterioration in eyesight can have profound implications on independence and can open up a range of mobility risks. Therefore, we need to be very aware of each person’s particular circumstances in the context of how their eyesight is deteriorating and how that deterioration will impede their daily lives.”
Technology is one such tool that has become critical in enhancing this understanding.
Owing to ongoing advances in clinical technologies, VEI is now able to capture and analyse diagnostic data in new ways, helping to inform different options when it comes to treatment delivery. As a result, ophthalmic care has been transformed in the past decade, and VEI is primed to take advantage of such new developments moving forward.
“We are beginning to use the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to assist us with diagnostics and are building on the vast realms of clinical data to complement the brilliant skills of our ophthalmologists and clinical support staff,” Thiedeman comments.
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VEI is also bolstering its overall offering in other ways.
The company has begun to branch into other specialties and niches aside from ophthalmology, having opened a new hospital in Adelaide, South Australia last year to provide gastroenterology, dermatology, plastics and a number of other surgical services.
Further, the organisation also runs a sister network of eye clinics and hospitals in China – operating under the Zeming brand – some of which have the scale to accommodate up to 100 patients in overnight beds.
Critical to the success of both VEI’s innovation and strides in the way of ophthalmology are its partners and suppliers.
The company has carefully cultivated an ecosystem of mutual dependence over many years, these supporting organisations assisting it in all aspects from ensuring its intra-ocular lenses are delivered on time and to the correct clinical specification through to being confident that its operating theatres have been cleaned and decontaminated to the highest standard.
“We are highly reliant on our relationships with third party partners,” Thiedeman affirms.
A visionary outlook
Without doubt, the assistance that these organisations offer in helping VEI to grow the scale and scope of its services moving forward will be critical.
Successfully established in Eastern Australia, the company is now looking to garner presence in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory as part of an ongoing expansion strategy. And it is also exploring other complementary surgical specialities to expand its hospital portfolio.
“We like the demand drivers in a number of the Southeast Asian countries and are currently looking at opportunities in the region,” Thiedeman comments.
The impact of expanding such services could be hugely significant. Citing statistics from the World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision, the CEO is able to reveal that 2.2 billion people suffer from vision impairment or blindness, and one billion of these cases could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed.
Such statistics considered, the services VEI provides are undeniably important to the lives of those that it does cater to, Thiedeman iterating this in a measured conclusion.
“The impact of losing one’s sight is enormous,” he begins. “Even in developed countries, people are leaving treatment far too late into the advancement of their eye disease.
“With improvements in early detection through more advanced diagnostics, I am hopeful we as a sector can become more successful at educating the community to have their eyes checked more regularly. The mantra holds as true in ophthalmology as it does in every other speciality – prevention is far better than any cure.
“While artificial lens technologies, stents to manage glaucoma and increasingly efficacious pharmacological agents to stem the advancement of retinal disease are all examples of truly transformational steps, we also have to actually get patients to the clinic to give them access to these treatment technologies.
“This is the status quo that we will be looking to change in the future.”