When you first used the internet, what was the first thing you searched for as an eye care professional? Research, perhaps? We’ve come a long way since dial up internet access was charged by the minute, and it’s not just our ability to find research that has changed. The whole optical industry is now linked up in a way that we never dreamt possible in the 70s and 80s.
The meaningful changes the optics industry has experienced since the rise of the internet and Ecommerce have influenced how independent practices are run. Understanding this evolution is a key step in learning why the growing online marketplace will continue to change.
Let’s address the biggest question independent’s are arguably facing at the moment: is your practice fully exploiting the benefits of digital? As an example, more and more practitioners are using the cloud to store information — allowing instant access to secure patient records whichever of your premises they attend. In the same way, practitioners involved in dispensing can now take a series of incredibly accurate measurements and transmit them in seconds to the lab, however many miles away it is. The patient’s lenses can be being shaped before they have even left your practice. Contrast this with the handful of practices that are still paper based, with drawer upon drawer of paper records, printed lens, and frame orders. Appointments are entered manually in a paper diary, and the receptionists have to be reminded to use pencil in case they need to make amendments to an appointment.
Of course, there are still situations where traditional methods could be worth retaining: a pd rule and marker pen are less intimidating for children and although paper records are vulnerable to flood and fire, they don’t ‘go down’ with a power cut. However, the ability to pull up a high resolution retinal image from the patient’s last visit and contrast it with how things look today is something that the practitioner of yesteryear would have envied. They would also have marvelled at the thought that, in the hands of an appropriately trained professional, an online dispensing platform could take all the measurements that a well-trained dispensing optician can take and more, then transmit them to suppliers ordering platform automatically. Perhaps most importantly, they would not have been able to envisage the impression made on patients when shown the image of the inside of their own eye, or when they hear about lenses that are personalised to customers every visual need.
Modern day challenges
Yet, there are challenges faced by today’s eye care practitioners that also would have been unimaginable in past times. There are modern day challenges facing the industry today that were of no concern to eye care practitioners fifty, forty, or even thirty years ago. Many practitioners might look back enviously at a time when patients couldn’t Google their own eye condition and tell the optometrist just what they should be doing, for example. And it’s on the retail front that we find some of the biggest challenges.
Consumers now shop around for care as well as products. You may well have been in the situation where you have watched with concern as a patient leaves after a contact lens trial. They say they’re not sure if they want to go ahead: you worry that they’re about to order lenses over the internet without any concern for good fit or follow up!
From having a closed market in eye care and eyewear, lenses, spectacles, and contact lenses, today’s eye care practitioners have to follow a fine line, allowing the consumer to make choices, while trying to ensure that they receive the care they need to look after the health of their eyes. Contact lens wearers who don’t realise the benefits of regular check ups are a particular area of concern, but practitioners do at least get the chance to speak to most of them at the initial fit where they can impress the risks and need for continuing care. Another group which should be of rising concern is those who never visit the optician but simply purchase ready readers online or in one of the many shops they are now stocked in. And that’s before you consider people who have an old prescription and simply re-order new specs online when they fancy a change in style without even considering the need for a check on the health of their eyes. But, what’s the common denominator in all these scenarios? It’s simple really: ease. The challenge modern, independent ECP’s now face is how to replicate that easy experience in store.
Adaption is key
However, if you feel that traditional eye care is being washed away in the rush to move everything online, don’t panic. Most people do realise that they need an eye test, even if some aren’t coming in as often as they should. There are a number of optical organisations campaigning to raise awareness of the vital role of the eye examination in ensuring your eyes stay healthy, especially amongst those age 40+. We all know that the industry has markedly changed in the last three decades — and continues to do so even now. What you need to understand, though, is that everyone, from those in their teens and twenties through to new presbyopes and even older pensioners have vastly different expectations. You and your practice need to stay current in order to adapt to the industry’s changing needs, and the needs of your patients too. To understand these changing customer expectations, we have the answer for you right here.
Actually adapting to these needs, however, is a different kettle of fish. But that’s also what we’re for: to help you not only understand why change can be key to the future success of the independent ECP industry, but also in implementing that change. To find out more information, simply pop across to our unique Bespoke service.