Practice Management

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

By Roger Mummert
Content Director, Review of Optometric Business

Feb. 6, 2019

By the time you read this, baseball phenoms Bryce Harper and Manny Machado may have signed multi-year contracts for $175 million or more. Spending such mega-bucks for a franchise player is a huge commitment for any sports organization.

And from this point forward, an optometrist may have a hand in such decisions.

Say what?

This may sound futuristic, but, in fact, it is fast becoming a reality. Sports vision–also called sports vision performance–is a hot growth area for optometry. To date, sports vision has been about measuring visual perception to establish a baseline, then improving reaction times and the processing of visual information to make good decisions in competition.

Now it’s going up a notch. New technology allows for the collection of “predictive data” from which you can extrapolate ultimate vision and sports performance.

The implications of this? We may be able to measure and accurately predict:

  • Can Bryce Harper improve how he sees, processes and reacts to a curve ball to hit through a shift? How likely is he to produce the “career year” that has eluded him to date?
  • Can Manny Machado handle the “hot corner” of third base and react to a ball batted at 125 mph–standing 20 feet closer than he does at shortstop?
  • How rapidly can a wide receiver bounce back from a concussion to play next Sunday? Is he ready to track a hail Mary pass while running full tilt with a defender on his shoulder? 

The answers to these questions are becoming measurable and predictable. If not today, then very shortly. And before sports team owners reach for their checkbooks, they’ll want to see the data on a player and hear its interpretation from an eyecare professional. Hey, with $175 million on the line–who ya gonna call?

An optometrist. And some ODs are positioning themselves for a data-informed practice of sports and performance vision.

“There are times you see more doctors in the locker room than athletes,” says Keith Smithson, OD, who practices at Northern Virginia Doctors of Optometry, and is team optometrist to the Washington Nationals, where Bryce Harper has played to date. Smithson also consults to a half-dozen other professional sports teams, and he says ODs are very much a part of the “team of doctors” that includes orthopedists, neurologists, podiatrists, physical therapists, all providing medical services to major sports organizations. 

Jennifer Stewart, OD, opened a second location a year ago–and not an optometry office but a sports vision training center. There, she offers sports vision consults and hands off the work to sports trainers who work with professional and youth athletes. The center, Performance 20/20, unites two of her loves, optometry and sports, and it’s a powerful referral base for her optometry office, located nearby.

What fantastic opportunities there are in optometry–if you consider these and other emerging opportunities. I often hear sports-obsessed young people say they want to go into sports marketing as a profession. I tell them, “Consider going into optometry–and specializing in sports vision performance.”

But sports vision is just one growing area of optometry among many: specialized medical model, vision training, dry eye & MGD treatment, rehabilitative vision care. Also emerging are opportunities for ODs to contribute to vision guidance systems in automated driving vehicles, robots and drones. These all need visual guidance systems, and engineers are racing to understand how the human visual system works to replicate it in some fashion.

But these opportunities will be missed if optometry focuses mainly on protecting what it does now and fails to look at what optometry might be tomorrow. In other words, keep your eyes on the ball coming at you; it’s likely to be a curve ball.

 

Roger Mummert is Content Director for Review of Optometric Business. Contact Rmummert@jobson.com.

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