Dr. Michael Lange is an optometric physician and certified nutrition specialist based in Florida. Dr. Lange opened his first solo office in 1993 amid the rapid expansion of Ocala’s aging population. Just a few weeks after he’d opened, he was invited to do a local radio show, answering questions for callers. His syndicated radio show continues to this day. His popularity helped grow Lange and Associates to over 13 offices. His focus on holistic health care also brings in new patients regularly.
When Dr. Lange noticed similarities in patients with eye disease, he began thorough research into possible causes and found certain deficiencies that could be supplemented through vitamins. He received his certificate in nutrition and developed Fortifeye Vitamins based on his research.
Patients schedule with Dr. Lange to help with eye care and are treated to a whole-body care plan that includes diet, proper supplements, and lifestyle changes. This approach helps patients with more than just eye care, it changes their overall well-being naturally.
With there being so many different areas of medicine to choose from, what do you specialize in and what made you choose that field?
I am an optometric physician and a certified nutrition specialist. My father was a rheumatologist and his best friend was an ophthalmologist. I was able to see what they did growing up and I knew I definitely wanted to be a part of helping people improve their lives.
I’d opened an office in Ocala, FL in 1993. At the time, that area had the fastest growing aging population in the nation. I saw many patients with macular degeneration and I started to think about what may be an underlying cause for it. I became the first optometrist to draw blood and really look into nutritional deficiencies that may have a hand in this disease. I found several similarities in different patients and began to develop vitamins that could make up for those deficiencies.
Fortifeye Vitamins started about twenty years ago, based on thousands of research hours. I found that by supplementing these deficiencies we had the ability to stabilize, and in some cases reverse the symptoms of macular degeneration and other eye diseases. It was during that time that I got my certification in nutrition. I wanted people to know that the vitamins I developed were based on evidence-based science and I felt the additional education helped with that.
In addition to Fortifeye, which is now a globally available product line, I purchased a small company called Paleo Simplified a few years ago and we’ve been expanding on what they’d already been doing, which is healthy snacks. There is also a diet plan that I developed called the Lange Diet Plan which, on average, helps people lose up to 6 lbs. per week when followed.
I have a whole-body approach to treating patients. They come to me because they are worried about their eyes, but we have the ability to see so much of their health through their eyes. It would be awful if I could recognize a health issue and just ignored it because it’s not my area. I take the time to discuss what I see and I provide solutions that are effective, not just visually speaking. Most importantly, the solutions we offer are natural instead of some high dollar medication that treats one symptom.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
The most challenging aspect for me became all the paperwork involved in health care now. Being based in an area with an aging population, many of my patients are on Medicare. There have been several changes to how we file for payment including HIPPA regulations, specific coding that changes regularly, and meaningful use guidelines.
All of this is time taken away from patient care. You’re staring at a screen, making sure everything will be covered instead of talking with your patient. That was something I was happy to walk away from when I sold the company. I kept my base office and now I can focus more on actual patient care instead of paperwork.
What do find most enjoyable?
Hands down, it’s seeing my patients improve. I’ve had patients walk through the door overweight, sometimes dealing with health issues like diabetic retinopathy or another eye disease. Through our holistic approach, we walk them through lifestyle, supplements, and diet changes. We provide supplements to naturally adjust deficiencies. In a years’ time, that same patient will lose the weight and a lot of the time, we see a reversal of the eye disease as well. It’s knowing and actually seeing the improvement to their overall well-being that makes my work so enjoyable.
Do you as a doctor have any weakness or strength?
I’d say my weakness is that I can be too soft. I’m not a fan of letting people go, even when it’s clear that the person isn’t the right fit. I’ve put people between myself and the staff that will handle that aspect for me because it’s something I’m not the best at.
My strength is that I am not afraid of hard work or sacrifice. I never imagined when I opened my first office that this is the direction it would go. I’ve spent a lot of time away from my family, seeing patients at every office and doing research on the vitamins. I’ve missed out on being there for my kids like I wanted to, but it was necessary to be successful.
I also consider my personality a strength. I’ve got a good sense of humor. I’m personable with my patients. You need them to know that your focus is their health, that you care about them. It’s important to build that rapport.
What do you consider to be unique and different skills that you have, as a doctor?
There are only six or seven optometrists with a certification in nutrition in the nation. We understand the value of a whole-body approach to eye care. This knowledge gives me a unique understanding of just how relevant what you put into your body is for your overall health, not just eye care.
Do you find it hard to separate your work from your personal life? Is there something specific that helps you do that?
Before I sold the majority of the company, I would bring work home with me. There were more patients to care for. I was still developing Fortifeye and doing that research. It was definitely harder back then to keep things separate. I feel like I was hardly there for my three older children.
It’s much easier now. I schedule time off Monday afternoons and on Fridays so I have more time to spend with my family. I’m able to be there for my youngest in ways I wasn’t for her siblings. I can go to her volleyball games and we travel when we can.
Do you have any advice for others looking to enter your specialty?
Work hard. There are only about twenty optometry colleges in the United States. You’ve got to have good grades to even be accepted since there are so few openings available. The program itself is exceedingly difficult, you have to be dedicated the whole time.
After you pass the boards, I recommend learning in an established practice to gain the experience you need before setting off on your own. There are a lot of commercial eye care facilities and it can be tough starting out. You’ve got to set yourself apart to get patients. Open early or stay later so more people can schedule at a time that works for them. Accept all patients, from private insurance to Medicare and Medicaid holders. Treat everyone you see as if they are your own family.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
To the public, I recommend getting a comprehensive eye exam, especially if it’s been a while for you. The eyes are the window to your health. There is a general idea that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, but there are so many things an eye doctor can find before it becomes an issue. We can actually see if a patient is at risk for a stroke in the future. Go have your eyes checked, have them dilated. A thorough eye exam is one of the best forms of preventive medicine available today.