By Michael A. Kling, OD
Feb. 28, 2018
Fourth in a four-part series
What does the future of optometry look like over the next five years? The question was addressed at “The Future of Optometry,” a presentation at 2017 Vision Expo West that was sponsored by Essilor.
Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD, and Richard Edlow, OD, presented an analysis of a vast amount of information available from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Eye Institute, Vision Council surveys, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Jobson Optical Group, Vision Watch, AOA Workforce Study, combined with original Jobson research. Panelists Gina Wesley, OD, and Michael Kling, OD, interpreted the data from the perspective of optometrists working daily in the trenches.
The presentation addressed four areas: demand, supply, mega-trends and opportunities. This article focuses on upgrading management and leveraging technology in healthcare delivery.
The goal that healthcare be focused on outcomes, and delivered by a team of healthcare providers, requires a new perspective. Many of us will need to upgrade our management, and enhance our technology, to stay profitable.
Most eyecare providers receive very little, if any, formal business or leadership training during the traditional four-year optometric curriculum. Yet many ODs find themselves owning their own practice at some point in their career, and unprepared for the challenges that face business ownership. To remain relevant, independent ECPs will need to invest in strong state-of-the-art management and effective leadership to remain viable and competitive in an ever-changing eyecare environment.
With increasing leverage, insurers are creating continued downward pressure on independent ECPs by decreasing reimbursements, increasing administrative requirements and requiring greater reporting of outcomes.
Increase Efficiency. This increased workload requires practitioners to improve their operational efficiency in order to stay viable due to the increase in costs associated with staff and other overhead required to meet these demands. In addition, the increasing cost of materials, along with requirements by some insurers to utilize certain branded materials and labs, further forces independent practices to improve efficiency to remain competitive.
Enhance Management Systems. More sophisticated management systems, such as computer-based patient communication software, are needed to provide improvements in operational efficiency, output, productivity and performance.
The recent influx of private equity (PE) investment in eyecare should further motivate independent ECPs to consider investing in more sophisticated processes and personnel. Since PE-backed organizations often have the resources to recruit more experienced management, independent ECPs must also invest in strong organizational leadership to maximize efficiency, performance and to remain competitive.
Consistently Deliver Exceptional Service. Most patients report that they are happy with their ECPs, and rate their experiences as “satisfactory,” while most ODs rate their service as “above average.” This disparity points out a potential disconnect between ECPs and the perception of their patients. Unfortunately, few practices truly deliver consistent, exceptional service, and even fewer deliver a memorable experience to their consumers and patients.
Providing an exceptional customer experience by offering extraordinary products and services, while capitalizing on the existing trusted relationship that patients have with their ECPs, along with recognizing that many consumers simply enjoy the shopping experience, is one of the most important and effective ways to compete with optical retail chains. Delivering this type of experience requires a sophisticated approach to team leadership, a commitment to improving company culture, a more intelligent approach to marketing and sound financial management.
Technology offers many advantages to independent ECPs, including improved efficiency, perception of quality of care and the reduction in morbidity due to early disease detection. Most large, well-run optometric practices rely heavily on automated technology to improve throughput during the examination process.
Currently available sophisticated diagnostic equipment allows progressive practitioners the ability to deliver a high level of care by detecting many disease processes that may otherwise go undetected. ECPs that embrace new technology and invest in improving exam efficiency will remain competitive as the demand for eyecare services continues to rise.
Invest in Technology to Deliver a High Level of Medical Eyecare. The number of practicing ODs is expected to rise over the next 10 years while the number of ophthalmologists is expected to remain flat. With the aging population, the demand for medical eyecare services will continue to increase and will require ODs to fill these necessary services. A recent AOA workforce study showed that there is currently a 12 percent over-supply of optometrists, which is expected to shrink to 4 percent by 2025. This means ODs will become busier, requiring a significant improvement in efficiency, especially with regard to providing medical eyecare services.
Optimize Ability to Quickly Adapt. When it comes to adopting new technology, independent ECPs have an added advantage over larger retail operations by having the ability to more quickly respond to both improvements in medical technology and changes in the eyecare industry.
Offer Personalized Care. Consumer studies show a high level of satisfaction with independent OD practices compared to optical chains. The doctor-patient relationship provides a unique advantage for independents by allowing for long-lasting relationships that often span generations. Optical chains often see higher turnover within their optometric providers, which frequently prevents them from developing the same lasting relationships with their patients.
Reach Patient By Mobile & Digital Interactive Technology. Independents must embrace mobile and interactive digital technology in the retail environment, and direct marketing toward a more experiential approach. The new consumer demands instant information, massive choice, peer opinions, rapid order fulfillment, and prefers supporting socially conscious companies.
Independent ODs are strategically positioned to deliver these demands so long as they embrace these changes and avoid the temptation to become complacent. To remain relevant in a changing eyecare economy, today’s
independent ODs will need to embrace the new customer experience and capitalize on the demands of the savvy consumer.
Independent ODs identify online refracting technology as one of the most significant threats to the profession. Online refractions meet two very important needs of the consumer: low cost and convenience. While it may be hard to imagine now, it is conceivable that this technology may become prevalent, even within the offices of independent ECPs, as the demand for eyecare services increases over the next 10 years.
Utilizing digital patient communication technology (e.g., text messages, automated recall systems) is also critical to staying engaged with the new consumer.
This technology allows for the efficient exchange of information between office and patient, improving office performance, productivity of staff and improved patient satisfaction. Independent ECPs that embrace this technology will enjoy the benefits of a streamlined approach to managing a busy practice and improving customer satisfaction.