You may have felt a disturbance in The Optical Force. However, it was not the Death Star incinerating Alderaan, but Jody Shuler initiating secret plans whereby rebel opticians could deploy a new technology to free themselves from the tyranny and oppression of the medical-optical model. Ewoks everywhere rejoiced. ODs were not amused.

Jody, an independent optician, who runs EyeCrave Optics in Watertown, NY recently began offering on-site, real-time, auto-refractions for his customers without a doctor at his location!

Jody chose the Smart Vision Labs SVONE Pro system, which is a combination wave-front abberometer and cellphone interface. His customers receive a carefully guided auto-refraction which is then reviewed off-site by a doctor of either ophthalmology or optometry. Depending on the availability of a reviewing doctor, the lens order is usually available within a few hours.

Jody is offering his customers refraction not an eye examination. He makes no claims otherwise I urge you to keep an open mind and see what Jody has done, opening an entire new world of possibilities for opticians.

I had a chance to speak with Jody last week.

John: I’m out on social media telling people that you are a brave man, breaking new ground for all of us. I see you as potentially shifting the entire field of opticianry as we know it. Is that how you see yourself and don’t be modest?

Jody: I do like to consider myself as being at the forefront of things. If I can do it and it will benefit my practice, I’ll try it. I guess you would call me an early adopter. As to shifting the entire field, yes, I’d like to see refraction removed from the hands of the doctors and made available to all of us.

We must recognize that piece of paper that we call a prescription is just a set of numbers that work as a lens order. Nothing more. Do I want to see the scales balanced a little? Yes, I do. It seems like the ODs want to have it all these days, they want to take on more of the medical side and control more of the optical side too.

John: I hate to dive down the rabbit hole, heck it is more like a black-hole, but these types of apps have really ruffled some feathers especially in the optometric world. Can you, briefly, tell us a little bit about how you see it?

Jody: If I met an OD that wanted to have a genuine conversation, I would tell them that this device is not going to harm them. In fact, if we could learn to work together and use it as an education tool, it would actually help them. I like to stress that those numbers we get from refraction and eye health go hand-in-hand, but there is no reason that they must be performed together. As you say, too many ruffled feathers right now to have a real conversation. I’m just glad to see things changing.

John: I see that you are tucked up pretty far north in NY. Was basic doctor availability one of the reasons behind going this route?

Jody: Yes, absolutely (laughs) this isn’t New York City! It is a nice town and growing a little but it can only support so many ODs right now.

The bigger problem is actually what I call the small town syndrome. With just a handful of eye care providers, you are stuck with the same problems over and over again.

Funny thing is that sometimes that problem is a doctor trying to be a nice guy! For instance, if the doctor doesn’t sell eyewear he may well say, “Mrs. Smith, you are seeing good, 20/20 on the chart, you seem happy, great, skip buying glasses this year.” Meanwhile her lenses are scratched, a six-year old design, and the frames are dated.

John: Let’s go back a second I think I just heard another ground-breaking piece of this new idea. I think I just heard that it basically allows you to get second or even third opinions from a doctor outside the ones you would have to rely on, if you stayed in town.

Jody: Yes, exactly. I’m not saying that we don’t have great doctors here. I’m saying that a few of them are set in their ways and that is not always in the best interest for my customers. Some of them also keep more traditional hours and that can make working with them a little more difficult. So, yes I see the SVONE as allowing me the freedom to choose the best doctor I can work with.

John: As an optician I just have to ask, “What about remakes, tweaks to the lens order etc?

Jody: I’m very careful about watching for anything that might create a problem. Unlike the usual relationship, I’m the one giving advice on the numbers and the customer to the reviewing doctor, not the other way around. I’m confident enough in my own skills that I’m good with that. I can add notes to any data that I’m sending out for review. My remakes are virtually zero.

John: Last question, how are you physically presenting the SVONE and how are you integrating into your business? Is it a nice add on or the centerpiece now?

Jody: It is another tool for me. I mention it to all my customers and I am “talking it up” where I can, but I see it more as being able to offer an alternative to a visit to a doctor’s office. I hope it leads to being a central part of the business but only time will tell. Like I said, I’m willing to try new things.

John Seegers
Director of Education
Laramy-K Optical