Optician Success 54

Weekly nuggets of random goodness, hand-picked to complement the OpticianWorks Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Rock Star Optician; tips, stories, and science helping you focus on getting the most from your optician career.

A Wake Up Call For ODs

Normally, Optician Success is directed toward, well... opticians. But, I have a lot of optometrist readers too. So today, I’m going to riff on the future of optometry in a way that could benefit both opticians and ODs.

First off, let me state that I’m not an OD, nor do I play one on the Internets, but the way I see it, there are tough times ahead for optical, with both opticians and optometrists facing similar circumstances, but very different sets of potential problems. This is not doom and gloom, end-of-the-world-type speak, but what I see as a reality check. Retail is undergoing massive upheaval right now. With over 300 retail foreclosures already this year and a projected 3000 store closings, 2017 could shape up as the worst on record. 

Yet, somehow, in the midst of what many are calling The Retail Apocalypse, optical seems almost unfazed.  

Yes, online optical is growing, but we’re not seeing the B&M closings and large chains declaring bankruptcy that we’re seeing elsewhere. Unfortunately, I think it’s only a matter of time, because traditional optical is being propped up by an artificial life support system, that could be facing it’s own demise.

In the context of the current retail environment, the legal requirement for a doctor’s prescription to buy a pair of glasses, protects the eye care business in three ways:

  1. It makes eyewear slightly more challenging to buy online than other retail products.
  1. It forces periodic in-store doctor visits for people who need glasses.
  1. Legally-mandated doctor refractions typically lead to more comprehensive eye exams for people who otherwise would not get them.

All of which mean more revenue, or at least more revenue opportunities, for B&M optical.

So, what happens when the life support is removed or bypassed by refraction technology, telemedicine, and consumer demand?

While it may take time to realize, when customers can get a refraction on their smartphone or amazon.com, the bonds between optician and eye doctor will be effectively severed. Opticians, no longer able to claim the moniker of “medical professional”, will be thrown into the same pool as the rest of retail. While it means more opportunity for some, you don’t need to look very far to see the likely outcome for others. It’s not a pretty picture. But I’ve written for over a year now on what I think opticians can do.

Perhaps even more challenging is what happens to optometry when the State no longer directs a continuous stream of patients through the front door for refractions.

Without mandatory, in-person refractions, subsequent exams, and of course, resulting eyewear sales, can optometry survive at it’s current scale on primary care, even with an expanding scope of practice?

The problems is, we’ve used mandatory doctor’s refractions as a crutch for so long, it’s blinded us to the actual business of eye care. What’s worse, it’s allowed us to claim the moral high ground without actually having to take the moral high ground. The aftermath could be ugly when it crumbles beneath us.  

What do I mean by that?

Well, think about this; When someone asks “Should a prescription be required to buy pair of eyeglasses?” The immediate, reflexive response is, “Of course, it’s necessary to ensure patient health. Without mandatory refractions, people would die, as diseases would go undiagnosed.”

Now, on the other hand, if someone were to ask, “Should a prescription be required to buy a pair of plano sunglasses?”, they’d most likely be met with a look suggesting the need professional help.

But why? Is one patient’s health more important than the other’s? Or are emmetropes somehow immune to diabetes, hypertension, glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal issues? Should they not also be required to have bi-annual refractions? (I know, refractions are not eye exams, yet somehow, that’s what we legislatively require and where we stake our moral high ground.)

Despite the lifesaving importance of mandated refractions (see there, I did it again), for all intents and purposes, emmetropes are ignored by the eye care industry.

Why are they ignored? If I had to guess, I would say because they aren’t legally bound to regular visits and the work necessary to encourage them to do so, of their own free will, would be, well… hard.

So, that is what I mean when I say, legally mandated refractions allow us to claim the moral high ground, without actually having to take it, all while blinding us to the business of eye care.

The point here is not to get into a religious war about whether or not eyewear should be treated as a prescription drug. The point is to illustrate the situation we’re in and point to a possible, albeit difficult, way forward for optometrists. It requires accepting the idea of a less-than-ideal future, taking a counter-intuitive approach, and building the strength and stamina necessary, in the limited time remaining, to stand free of the crutch/life support.

So, how might that be done?

First, take a minute or two to think about how—or even if—your practice could succeed without refraction-seeking customers.

Second, think about regular exams for emmetropes as every bit important to your practice as those in need of visual correction. Educate patients on the importance of eye exams for everyone, (this is going to be tough, but hey we created this mess.). Try to schedule regular appointments for the entire family. Think dentistry. Then, make sure your marketing and advertising is inclusive of emmetropes.

Finally, if you’ve been reading Optician Success for any length of time, this will come as no surprise: If your business model includes eyewear, separate your medical practice from optical sales as much as humanly possible. Both need to focus on amazing customer experiences, but as a rule, people do not like going to the doctor, so use the optical retail experience as the honey worthy of drawing in customers—a place people would not hesitate to visit on a Friday or Saturday night (typically not a doctor’s office). In a world without a legally-mandated stream of refractions, you are going to have to create a new draw.

Unfortunately, these “fixes” might only prolong of the inevitable for many in the field, as we are already seeing incredible advancements in imaging technology, artificial intelligence, and image analysis, all of which are likely to add stress to the profession. It’s conceivable that a large portion of the day in the life of “not-too-distant-future OD” will be working alongside an AI practicing telemedicine.

Keep in mind, I have no practice experience to base these ideas on, it’s just the way I happen to see things from my outside perspective. So, if you have your own ideas, think I’m totally off base, or out of my mind, please let me know. I want to hear what you think.

 

Video of The Week:  More Lensmeter!

This week, in the penultimate installment of the lensmeter series (I just like it when I have the opportunity to use the word “penultimate”), learn how to use the lensmeter for finishing layout.

Our goal is to provide more accessible and a higher level of education for opticians everywhere. If you like Optician Success and the weekly video training, and would like to support our effort, please consider becoming a member of OpticianWorks.com for access to even more high-quality optician training. Better yet, open a Laramy-K Optical lab account for the best in independent uncut work and we'll throw in the OpticianWorks memberships for free! Your staff and your customers will thank you!

I hope you enjoyed this issue of Optician Success.

Until next time,

Thanks again for reading!

-Keith

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