The Big Interview: Michelle Le Prevost, managing director of Visioncall

Michelle Le Prevost is managing director at Cambuslang-based Visioncall, which is focused on person-centred eye care at home.

Le Prevost flags the aim to develop the brand identity of the business. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

The former MD of optometry chain Black & Lizars took the reins at Visioncall towards the end of 2019. The business specialises in delivering eye care to care homes across the UK and has had to adapt significantly over the last six months due to coronavirus – with Le Prevost having led it through a major restructuring that was announced last month.

Can you explain what Visioncall does and what your own role is?

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Since 1994, Visioncall has been a leading eye care provider to the UK care home sector, delivering home sight tests to those unable to visit a high-street optician. Regardless of a person's age or needs, we believe that they have the right to the best eye care service to help them see the world around them. The people we help cannot visit a high-street optician unattended; they also may be living with additional healthcare needs.

The executive has almost three decades’ experience in healthcare businesses. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

We strive to always do the right thing for our patients. We believe the right people make a big difference and our teams deliver the most caring services for patients, based on their own individual needs. Our specialist holistic approach to eye care means our patients will benefit from being more engaged with the world around them, improving their overall quality of life.

We believe our team is the embodiment of our company values. In living these company values together, we are able to improve the lives of our patients through our work together. Together, we can help people to see better and live better.

My role as managing director is to steer the business by driving its development and strategic growth. I manage and coach a senior team to excel in their area of expertise and to operate as a high-performing, cross-functional team. I also have a key role in ensuring effective and transparent communication across the company.

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The firm has just unveiled a major restructure and plans to expand – can you explain more about this, especially in the context of the impact Covid-19 has had on the business?

At Visioncall, we believe in the power of innovation and we had already embarked on significant digital transformation within the business including our new bespoke digital practice management system, Iris. During lockdown our teams worked to accelerate this programme and to define new ways of working with our business model pivoting to adopt a hub-and-spoke structure.

This new formation allows us to provide patient-centric services through teams of trained clinicians working in the local community, unencumbered by the day-to-day administrative processes that have now been centralised to our manufacturing and support centre in Glasgow.

Throughout this difficult time, our core value that business should always strive to do what’s best by our patients has guided our decision-making process. In order to be able to survive and provide essential services for our patients in the future we have had to make some tough decisions, like adapting the very way our business model operates, which is now helping us to meet this obligation.

In joining Visioncall, I was seeking to use my business development experience to enhance core services and to expand eyecare opportunities to additional patient groups who are not served best by existing high-street optical businesses.

Recognising the additional needs created by Covid-19, we are developing our new Home Clinic service in Scotland, designed to support people of any age, who are unable to; or choose not to; visit a high-street optician, by providing eyecare services in their own home. Our medium-term aim will be to develop and roll out this offering across the UK.

You have almost 28 years’ experience in healthcare businesses, having previously led Black & Lizars – can you summarise your career progress before your current role?

My healthcare journey started with the Guernsey Board of Health, where one of my earliest memories was preparing the nursing budgets on a manual ledger!

From there I moved to work for Specsavers and stayed with them for close to 15 years. During this time, I learned about the optics industry, gaining experience by promotion through a variety of roles and developed my financial skills to include both business and project-planning for retail store development.

In 2009, now resident on the UK mainland again, I joined LloydsPharmacy and relocated to Scotland. Four years later when the industry was in turmoil dealing with the on-going impact of reductions in the drug tariff, I left pharmacy and joined dentistry to further develop my CV.

Acquisition and mergers in the dental industry is fast paced and I connected with Oasis dental at their early stages of expansion, before their eventual sale to Bupa.

Fast-forward to March 2016 when I took on my first MD role, back in optics with Black & Lizars. Company changes there freed me up to develop my own business development consultancy but by 2019 I had met the owner-directors of Visioncall who inspired me to return to employment, with an opportunity to make a real difference to patients’ lives.

What are the challenges in running a healthcare firm, and what changes would you like to see in terms of how the sector is regulated?

Infection prevention and control is obviously a key challenge for any healthcare provider operating in the Covid environment (and particularly acutely in the care home sector) and many of our protocols have had to be revised to ensure maximum protection for both patients and staff. Working in full personal protective equipment all day, every day, is necessary but demanding.

Whether we are providing care for the NHS or for the private sector, it is important that, above all we treat patients as individuals and ensure we can respond to their specific healthcare needs. To do this well, we need flexibility and speed.

I appreciate that some NHS healthcare providers operate under more onerous regulations that we do. However, some rules such as the need in England to notify three weeks in advance of a scheduled eyecare clinic in a care home, hinders access to speedy patient care. This type of outdated regulation is typically cast in statute and therefore difficult to change. I would welcome a review of these types of barriers to improved healthcare services for patients.

Having said that, Scotland as a devolved nation is more fleet of foot, dealing with this statutory regulation more proactively and efficiently. NHS Scotland continues to recognise and support the needs of eyecare providers in the domiciliary sector.

How is Brexit going to affect the business and what measures are you planning to take?

We recently risk-assessed the business for the impact of Brexit and happily expect little effect. As a service-provider across the UK, we have sufficient and growing resources to meet patient demand through our local clinical teams.

Manufacturing is undertaken by our own team at Cambuslang and with product stocks high we should see no detrimental effect to operations. More long term, we have robust relationships throughout our UK-based supply chain who can support us as required.

What would you like the business to look like in say two years' time?

Growing our business to enable us to see the volume of patients we were treating pre-Covid is a priority. Expanding access to our specialist services for anyone seeking eyecare in their own home will also be a key target and we are on track to achieve this well within two years.

Within this timescale we will develop the brand identity of the business, so we are no longer what I call “the best-kept secret in optics” and enabling us to fully demonstrate our belief in a caring society.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your career?

I have twice been confronted with having to decide if I should settle for remaining in a role with no realistic opportunity for further development and promotion or whether to trust my instinct that I could achieve more by being brave enough to make a major change in my circumstances.

Both times I took the leap and each event has been pivotal in both my personal and professional journey and has brought me to where I am today. I have no regrets.

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