Independent Optometry in the Digital World

   10/18/2017

On January 8, 2007, the very first iPhone was introduced to the world – making 2017 the tenth anniversary of the touch screen. Since then, we’ve experienced an exciting, tumultuous period literally unprecedented in human history – we can communicate with anyone on the planet, at any time, as long as they have internet connection. The rate of technological advancement will not even out or slow down, either – it is exponentially increasing at a staggering rate with artificial intelligence, augmented reality and the Iot.

These staggering changes on a planetary scale can seem incredibly exciting or terrifying depending on your perspective. Despite our feelings about what’s happening, though, the world is changing and it’s changing fast.  Optometrists who have been in practice for decades are now faced with the prospect of patients who suddenly have new options on where they can purchase contact lenses and eyewear, and even how they receive updated prescriptions for vision correction. Through technology, it’s now possible to complete DIY refractions on a cell phone app.

While these advancements in technology may feel like a serious threat to our livelihood, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and operate as if people don’t have access to these new choices. We must acknowledge technological disruption, and adjust our strategy so that we take advantage of technology where applicable and continue to thrive as small to mid-size business owners in bricks and mortar locations.

Your Strategic Advantage

An aging population. 74.9M people in the United States today were born between 1946 and 1964 and are in their fifties – late sixties. This generation of people are redefining how we think about aging. Many of them are still active in their careers, are interested in health care and self-care, and prefer to form long-term, loyal relationships with trusted health care providers.

An aging population presents a great opportunity for optometrists in private practice, as these folks value the face to face, personalized approach to health care and will seek it out. Your capture rate can remain high with the products you dispense if you are careful to cultivate relationships and build in value by offering additional services such as processing manufacturer rebates on contact lenses for them, or offering to repair scratches on their lenses for free.

Eyewear Consultants.  While online distribution of eyewear offers consumers an easy way to shop 24/7 and often much less expensive options, it is difficult for ecommerce to compete with in person consultations with skilled opticians. People still value face to face interactions with skilled professionals to guide them through a purchase decision. When you combine customer service with follow up after the purchase or build in value added options such as free adjustments and scratched lens repair, you’ll increase or maintain high capture rates and patient loyalty.

State of the Art Vision Exams. 

While the transaction received from an online retailer may appear seamless and less time consuming in the short-run, the reality is an in-person visit far benefits a patient in the long run. As obvious as this is to ODs, many patients perceive an eye exam strictly as a means of seeing better or renewing a prescription. In a world where perception is reality, the onus is on eye care providers to change perceptions. Investing in high-end technology like an OCT, retinal camera and digital refraction system helps differentiate your professional services from an app or website that claims to offer a comparable service. We are certain to see the continuation of new, innovative technology that can be implemented into the office of an independent OD. Make sure every patient seen leaves your office with a clearer understanding of your services and the importance of a comprehensive eye examination. Technology provides a great “Wow factor” for the patient – if you choose to invest in it!

Embrace Technology in Your Practice

People expect a seamless transition from the physical world into the digital. We expect to be able to easily access your website from our mobile devices, click to call from our phones, browse pictures of your inventory, place orders for contact lenses, and book appointments online. There are fairly simple ways to accommodate your patients and prospective patients with digital tools, and integrating these tools should be a focus for you right now. You send a clear message to your patients when you embrace technology in this way – you are leading an innovative, forward-thinking practice with their preferences and habits top of mind.

It’s important to note that these behaviors are not exclusive to patients under 40, by the way. Your baby boomer patients discover you through a Google search, have a Facebook page and are just as addicted to their cell phones as your younger patients. Adapting your online presence to include video content, images of your inventory, an online appointment scheduler and an ecommerce option for easy contact lens reorders will serve as a 24/7 ambassador for your customer-focused brand.

The Speed of Change

While technology will continue to disrupt the eye care space, change has not occurred as quickly as many other industries. According to the Vision Council, about 4.2% of all recent eyeglass buyers used the Internet to directly purchase eyeglasses. This number has increased over the past several years, but very slowly. Online refractions are in their infancy and still somewhat of a novelty, but as the technology (and accuracy) improves and more people opt for the convenience of updating their glasses prescription online, will this become more commonplace? Will telemedicine and other forms of remote medical services become more accepted and earn greater traction in the marketplace? In spite of past trends, it’s critical that ODs do not rest on their laurels. It’s likely that change will be accelerated in the coming years. As technology continues to advance and more young consumers enter the marketplace, businesses will have to adapt to changes in consumer expectations and buying preferences. Think about this, the next generation of consumer doesn’t know what it’s like to live in a world where you can’t order almost any product you want online. Waiting more than 2 minutes for a video to play or an app to download is an eternity. They are growing up in an on-demand world where purchasing products and services can be done with the touch of a button, with minimal wait times to receive the end product. For ODs who bemoan these changes and what they perceive as unrealistic expectations by the younger consumer, the ones who fail to adapt will likely get left behind by their more innovative competitors.  Slow, steady change is the past does not forecast a similar pace of change in the future. If change accelerates, the market will likely favor the leaders and punish the laggards. Do you have a plan to innovate and stay competitive?

 

How IDOC Can Help

Being part of a larger collective in the optometry space and as a practice owner is a smart way to navigate changes and capitalize on opportunities. As a member of an alliance, you have access to and can communicate with optometrists in private practice all over the United States. IDOC will create opportunities for in-person and virtual communication to enable you to learn and share best practices, and continue to grow and thrive. You can also work with a team of professionals at IDOC who are committed to your success in business, and who will work to keep you Focused on What Matters.

 

Reference:

https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/2016%20Internet%20Influence%20Report%20FINAL.pdf

 

 



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