Practice Management

We’ve Seen a Thing or Two: Threats to Optometry Keep on Coming

By Roger Mummert
ROB Editorial Director

“We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two,” goes the tag line from a catchy TV commercial. “We covered it.”

After three decades of reporting on the eyecare field, maybe we know a thing or two, as well. Chances are, we covered it.

I’m speaking of a number of colleagues and myself here at Jobson Optical Group who have chronicled this field for about 30 years. And in each of those years, it, seems, we reported on one threat or another that was about to fundamentally change eyecare delivery and forever alter the course of optometric careers.

It’s quite a list: commercial optometry, mail-order contact lenses, then 1-800 Contacts, glasses in about an hour, disposable contact lenses, RK, then PRK, then LASIK, self-refraction, Warby Parker and Zenni Optical, telemedicine, new optometry schools, and then….

There is always an “and then….”

Mea culpa. Perhaps we’ve been guilty of over-hyping these threats. After all, bad news sells newspapers, and no one has done a better job on reporting on the decline of newspapers and traditional publishing than us journalists.

The good news: Optometry has shown its resilience, adapting to every threat. And there are many reasons to believe that optometry has a vital place in the evolving landscape of healthcare delivery.

The current “threat” to optometry’s future is private equity funds that are purchasing independent practices and creating networks of practices, centrally managed.

But is a threat also an opportunity?

We are examining that very issue at “Private Equity Takes Root,” a two-hour learning event at Vision Expo East that Review of Optometric Business is developing with Vision Monday in coordination with Vision Expo.

Among presenters are our Professional Editor Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD, and contributors Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, and Michael Kling, OD. Also, a panel of private equity executives will participate in Q&A with the audience. The room is filling up, so register now.

Private equity investment offers an appealing scenario: Exit practice ownership, leave management burdens behind, and be the doctor you were meant to be. At the same time, there are concerns: Am I getting full value? Will I be able to make clinical decisions? What becomes of my staff, and how are they managed after I sell and if I continue working at the practice? How can I meet productivity goals (and reap compensation based on them) if I no longer manage the staff that is essential to practice success?

Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, who sold his practice in Rancho Bernardo, Calif., a year ago, advises colleagues considering a sale to ask themselves fundamental questions: Why did you become an optometrist? What do you really want to be doing? Can you work for someone else?”

“Often times, I find that they haven’t worked these things out,” Dr. Chou says. “You need to tread carefully and consider what your post-sale life will be like.”

Well, it’s not easy. The option to sell a practice sooner than later throws traditional career plans awry.

Michael Kling, OD, concurs. He recently renovated a building for his six-OD practice in San Diego, and he continues to invest in a high-tech dispensary and in cutting-edge management systems to give him an edge in a competitive marketplace. “If you’re in this for the long run, the traditional 30- to 40-year optometry career, then the business decisions you need to make are well spelled out,” he says. “But if you’re looking at selling in five years, these are uncharted waters.”

True enough. But many professions (including journalism, as noted) are navigating uncharted waters and coping. It’s helpful to look at how fast healthcare, itself, incorporates change. In recent years healthcare has incorporated self-administered diabetes monitoring, telemedicine diagnoses, urgent care centers, bio-tracking devices that can communicate patient to doctor (or data base), remote robotic surgery, big-data analysis for treatment protocols, and on and on.

Yes, we’ve seen a thing or two–but experience tells me we ain’t seen nothing yet.


Roger Mummert is Editorial Director of Review of Optometric Business. Contact:

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