By Brian Chou, OD, FAAO
May 18, 2016
Many of us find meaning and purpose as clinicians. Yet this is not always the case. Particularly as the years wear on, the myriad frustrations of clinical practice can exert a cumulative toll until we land in a rut. As the writer, Ellen Glasgow said, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” A wise optometrist warned me early in my career that falling into a rut after years of practice is self-inflicted, so I’ve stayed active with extra-clinical projects.
Here, I profile three optometrists and how their pursuits outside of practice have blossomed. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to stay engaged in optometry, even if it means putting your time and attention outside direct patient care.
Scott Jens, OD, CEO of RevolutionEHR, cloud-based EHR for optometry
“I never envisioned being an entrepreneur, who after 25 years of practicing eyecare, would move my career solely into running and evolving a software business,” explainsScott Jens, OD. When he was still practicing, Dr. Jens volunteered for organized optometry at the state and national level, including projects aimed at developing documentation and coding standards for eye examinations. With an interest in computer programming going back to high school, he thought that documentation and coding should be computerized. In 2005, with a fellow optometrist and computer scientist, he helped them develop a PC-based system that launched two years later as RevolutionEHR, which became the first EHR and practice management software for optometry that was completely cloud-based – no software needed on the computer and no server required in the practice.
While a clinician, Dr. Jens says he, “overlaid a fast-track learning of writing a business plan, nuances of obtaining financing and raising private capital, while making the difficult family decision to put other ambitions on hold to invest in my own idea.” Dr. Jens adds, “I had the incredible support of business partners at the practice who tolerated my increased distraction from running the clinical business in exchange for building a thoughtfully-built software system for our practice, which I also hoped thousands of others might appreciate.”
The main value of RevolutionEHR, according to Dr. Jens, is that, “The doctor can focus on patient care instead of IT struggles of server maintenance and software upgrades –without the repetitive burden of downloading software onto a server and each workstation.” Additionally, RevolutionEHR introduced the first monthly subscription model, unlike the traditional software purchase with add-on modules and an annual service contract for upgrades.
When asked about the greatest challenge in the field of software, Dr. Jens replies, “It is a challenge to iterate and advance the software as quickly as the user thinks of new and better ways to perform their duties.” Yet these user requests have also given rise to an expanding suite of subscription-based business services available only to RevolutionEHR users, under the name Rev360, a business service company being launched by Dr. Jens.
Sandra Young, OD, Award-Winning Author of Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health
ForSandra Young, OD, it began in 2011 in Boston at the Ocular Nutrition Society Symposium after listening to keynote speaker, Johanna Seddon, MD, present research highlighting nutritional supplementation with lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids, and their protective effect against age-related macular degeneration.
A passionate cook, Dr. Young says, “I realized the need for patients to have a practical guide to acquire these important nutrients in their diet. I researched food sources of the AREDS, AREDS2 nutrients. Once the food sources were compiled, I created low glycemic impact recipes using these foods. Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health was born!”
Published in 2013, it was the first cookbook on this topic, and has since won eight national book awards. “In our practices, we focus on meeting patients’ vision and eye health needs. Why not give your patients the nutritional tools needed to support their eye health and wellness? An ounce of prevention may last a lifetime,” says Dr. Young.
Along the way, Dr. Young learned that the book business is a challenge, especially acquiring a publisher. “Also, marketing and getting the word out to doctors and patients will keep you busy around the clock, if you let it,” she adds. Dr. Young went the route of self-publishing, which she found expensive, but allowed for control over the final product. “Most people don’t realize that self-publishing can also limit access to some retail outlets, she says. Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health is available through Jobson Medical Information, Amazon and all Natural Grocers, and may be ordered at a savings in bulk at www.visionarykitchen.com.
Meanwhile, Dr. Young has a second book in the works, Visionary Kitchen: Herbs & Spices for Eye Health.
Kelvin Nguyen, OD, CEO of OptoHood, providing enhanced ophthalmic imaging
For nearly two decades of clinical practice, Dr. Nguyen observed inconsistent image quality with retinal photography due to pupil-related artifact. “Although retinal camera quality has improved over time, I was still frustrated by the image quality. The annoyance was compounded by retaking images, which disrupts workflow,” explains Dr. Nguyen.
He finally had enough. Toiling for months into the evenings after patient care, the result is the patent-pending OptoHood, launched in 2015. OptoHood, according to Dr. Nguyen, maximizes scotopic pupil size by shielding patients’ eyes from ambient light while also preventing miosis due to accommodation and convergence. “The quality and design of our hoods ensure that they seamlessly integrate with non-mydriatic fundus cameras, OCTs, wavefront aberrometers and nerve fiber analyzers,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Most ophthalmic cameras require a minimum pupil size for quality images, and OptoHood helps ensure this happens.”
Asked about the greatest challenge, Dr. Nguyen replies, “It’s getting the word out about OptoHood and how it would benefit my fellow doctors. Many doctors say that their photos are ‘good enough.’ But I want to change that mindset, make it easy to enhance image quality, and look out for the welfare of the patients without additional work and time for the doctor. I’m collecting data as the hoods sell. Doctors want empirical evidence; they prefer to see it with their own eyes. This is why OptoHood offers a complete 90-day money-back guarantee, including shipping costs. There is absolutely zero risk to the doctor when purchasing our hood.”
What lies ahead for OptoHood? “More outreach, one-on-one marketing, increased education on our products, and working on getting more acceptance from the ophthalmic community,” says Dr. Nguyen.
Pursue Your Outside Ambitions
Maybe you also have a great eyecare idea–maybe for a smartphone app, new medical device, or a consulting service–but don’t know where to start. I asked our three optometrists for their advice to colleagues aspiring to start a venture outside of practice. Here’s what they say.
Dr. Jens: “When you have a great idea for the eyecare community, patients or practices, I strongly encourage two things. First, test the idea off other ECPs. Be absolutely certain that the idea passes muster. This is often difficult because it means that you will disclose your idea to others. But know that almost no one who hears a good idea will be able to copy it and deliver it. Second, budget and plan to hire a business management expert that fulfills duties in your weak points. In our case, a veteran software company executive was brought in at the urging of prospective investors. The executive’s perspective on business management and software operations filled voids that my partners and I could have never filled.”
Dr. Young: “Always follow your heart. It’s not work when you are following your passion. And the quality of the end product will always be fantastic. I have loved cooking for over four decades. In fact, I nearly went to culinary school instead of pursuing a career in optometry. Being able to combine the promotion of eye health and wellness with the creativity of recipe design and photography is amazing!”
Dr. Nguyen: “Take it on as a passion, and not as work. The joy you will get in producing something that will benefit mankind, no matter how small or big, is immeasurable. Chase the endeavor of making it the best it can be, not making the money, as the goal. The money will come as a result.”
Scott Jens, OD, is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry, and was in private practice in Madison, Wis., for nearly 25 years. He is now CEO of RevolutionEHR and its business service company, Rev360. To contact:firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandra Young, OD, is a graduate of Pacific University, College of Optometry. She is an author, designer of ocular nutrition recipes for large companies and private practices, and gives classes and live cooking demonstrations. To contact: email@example.com
Kelvin Nguyen, OD, is a graduate of New England College of Optometry. He owned two practices in Merced, Calif., before moving to San Diego in 2006 where he now co-owns a group practice with Dr. Chou. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org