Practice Management

How to create loyalty through the convenience of Tele-optometry

Eye care was already going through major shifts with regard to access to care long before anyone had even heard of Covid-19 or its variants and like lots of other things, the pandemic caused many to rethink how access to care can work.
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Published 11.28.2022

Private Equity entered the eye care space and began purchasing and consolidating practices nationwide which in turn kicked off a sudden spike in early retirement. Those owner operators that were accustomed to the significant workload of business ownership and regularly worked 6 day weeks were suddenly no longer interested in putting in those types of hours.

If you step back and consider, it makes perfect sense: why should the former owner/operator continue to grind in a business that’s no longer theirs? In response, PE groups began advertising much higher salaries than most associates were accustomed to even seeing, let alone receiving. Those deep pockets would go a long way to recruiting tenured optometrists and opticians, as well as those that are fresh out of school. It’s no surprise then that the eye care industry found itself squeezed by yet another market force, this time making it more difficult to find and retain talented optometrists and opticians.

A peek into the future

The newer generation of optometrists, ophthalmologists, and opticians have brought with them shifts in demographics and philosophical approaches to their careers. Many optometrists graduating today prefer not to move to a rural area to set up shop and work longer and harder than is strictly necessary and will often wait for the right opportunity to come along before committing to a practice. People in general seek a better work-life balance and aim to avoid burnout. New eye care grads prefer to work 3 or 4 days a week and many graduates are looking to work in subspecialty areas of interest that they discovered in school.

Along with shifts in demographics and perspectives on an ideal work life, the scope of eye care has expanded over the last 10 years, particularly among optometrists. All over the country, ODs are able to build successful practices treating things like dry eye or glaucoma or working with their patients on vision therapy or myopia management. This has certainly not supplanted generalist care as of yet, but market forces are pulling professionals in that direction.

Even with ground regularly being broken on new optometry schools, there simply aren’t enough graduating doctors looking for refraction focused full time work. Projections show an increasing demand for eye doctors nationwide that quickly and clearly outpaces the supply. That gap is only going to grow.

A look at the present

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and all of the complications that came with it, a disproportionate number of older associate doctors hung up their ophthalmoscopes, never to return. This exacerbated and accelerated a problem for which we didn’t have an adequate solution: Dark Locations.

Dark stores, a term coined by national retailers to describe locations with no doctor coverage, had already been a growing problem for retailers; throughout the pandemic they saw the number of dark locations balloon into the thousands with still more working with dim coverage, or partial coverage.

To be clear, this is in no way a private equity or retailer only issue. Private practice optometry and doctor owned groups found an increasingly difficult hiring market in which finding full time doctors to cover their satellite locations became daunting to the point of frustration. In some areas, the employee market became so fiercely competitive that locally owned businesses couldn’t compete and were unable to hire that associate they were counting on to grow their business.

Private Equity groups will continue to attract applicants with compensation packages that mom and pop shops simply cannot offer but even they’re finding recruiting to be an uphill battle that’s only getting steeper in many areas.

To address these staffing shortfalls, big box optical retailers and PE owned groups have either already rolled out or are in the process of rolling out tele-optometry in their more remote or difficult to staff locations.

A step you can take

With all that background out of the way, now you have to decide if offering your patients a convenient and cost effective mechanism by which to access care is good for your patients, your staff, and your business.

According to Criteo (a digital marketing researcher) 78% of consumers say they value convenience more today than they did before the pandemic and 84% of consumers that tried a new online retailer during the pandemic said they’ll likely keep going back if they’re happy with the product and experience.

38% of customers shopped at the online versions of physical stores they usually purchase from for the first time as a result of the covid-19 pandemic
38% of customers shopped at the online versions of physical stores they usually purchase from for the first time as a result of the covid-19 pandemic

Now that the dust is settling a bit on the post pandemic landscape, private practice eye doctors, PE groups, ophthalmology owned clinics and other healthcare settings like community medical centers and regional hospital systems have seen tele-health be successful, effective, and impactful when done right.

While some applications of tele-optometry were found to be lacking for eye care for various reasons before and during the pandemic, those were quickly abandoned once doctors could return to work. 20/20NOW was created over 7 years ago with a simple but necessary mission: To preserve the standard of care for comprehensive eye exams while delivering greater access to care & lowering the cost of exams through meaningful innovation.

We’ve been fortunate enough to see tremendous growth through the last few years and are pleased to see that trend continue now that we’re more or less back to normal. We live our mission every day and invite you to step into the future of eye care with us.

Bob Iasillo
Author
Bob Iasillo, Vice President Sales and Marketing 20/20NOW
Bob has been in the ophthalmic industry for 15 years and has launched multiple new medical devices in eye care. With a focus on bringing innovation to eye care, Bob has a passion for launching early stage startups and has brought four new technologies to the industry. email: biasillo@for2020now.com website: for2020now.com