Fall 2017
Fall 2017

Disrupting the Disruptors
dis-rupt (verb): to interrupt, by causing a disturbance or problem; to drastically alter the structure of something; upset, obstruct, impede, interfere with, distort. Strong words, but most optometrists can relate. The word “disruptive” is accurate when describing the growth of online optometric services.
Written by Sheila Quirke

It started as a commerce venue shift- retailers offered discounted eyeglasses and contacts via the Internet. Disruption has now morphed into online refraction being widely available to consumers who can access a new prescription without leaving home. That is some Star Trek level technology!

The American Optometric Association takes a strong stance against these innovations due to how they can affect patients’ long-term health. “An online eye test that results in a contact lens and eyeglasses prescription may give patients a false sense of security, potentially delaying sight-saving care,” says the AOA. “While there may be fine print disclaimers that say these apps do not replace comprehensive eye examinations, they may still misleadingly provide patients with a peace of mind that they received care.” Regardless of risk, patients are embracing these services. Disruptive startup technology is here to stay.

So, what to do and how to adapt? ICO-trained doctors are at the forefront of these questions. Former ICO resident Dr. Ryan Corte is the founder of IntroWellness.com. This resource website produces short video clips that simplify health and wellness information for consumers. Dr. Corte believes these disruptors clearly understand how their presence impacts optometrists. “They know exactly what they are doing by trying to disrupt the process of refraction. It’s not going away. We must educate our patients to the fullest degree about what ODs provide that is different, and be there for them if they discover what they’re being provided online falls short.”

Dr. Stephanie Messner, Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs, states, “We must prepare our students for a future in which data collection is not the most important aspect of what they do.” Instead, emerging tech tools can be used as one step toward a larger mission- “to solve their patients’ problems in the most efficient way.”

To do that adequately, it is important to better understand how online disruptors work. Here are the basics for a few, including what they provide, what they don’t provide, and who they are targeting with services and marketing.

Opternative “The eye exam has evolved.”

Chicago’s homegrown disruptor, Opternative, was founded in 2012 and began offering online refraction in 2015. Last year, it established an alliance with 1-800-Contacts. It is currently active in 37 states and provides prescriptions using board certified ophthalmologists. Patients must be between 18-55 years old and state they are in good health via self-report. Online refraction is done at home using a computer and smart phone app, with a prescription then e-mailed to the consumer.

EyeNetra “Refraction mobilized.”

EyeNetra was developed as a med-tech project at the MIT Media Lab. It is a “suite” of portable refraction tools for use by consumers under the “supervision of an eye care professional.” The tools are transported to schools, businesses, correctional institutes, missions, rural areas, and mobile clinics. The equipment, including an auto-refractor, auto-lensometer, and handheld phoropter, is powered by a smart phone app. Data is transmitted to a proprietary, cloud-based system. Prescriptions that are generated can then be sent directly to a consumer’s phone. More than 150,000 eye exams using the technology have now been logged.

Smart Vision Labs “Grow your business with optical telemedicine.”

The objective of Smart Vision Labs is to connect brick and mortar optical stores with ophthalmologists via technology. They advertise a five-minute vision test and prescriptions for customers within 24 hours, accessible to patients via a secure online portal. The vision test uses a smart phone app that scans the eye with “wavefront technology,” and includes photos taken of the eyes for remote review by ophthalmologists. All of this is overseen by a “normal employee,” which one can assume is not a doctor of optometry. The company’s website emphasizes lower costs for eye care professionals and increased sales, improving a return on investment. It boasts that using the technology eliminates the need to find or pay for doctors on-site.

Warby Parker “…founded with a rebellious spirit…”

Packaging itself as the disruptor with a heart of gold, Warby Parker hit the internet in 2010. They have carved out a market by offering affordable and fashionable frames that customers can select online, then try on in the comfort of their own home. The company both designs and produces their product. Ironically, the brand now has a growing brick and mortar footprint, with 58 locations across the US. This year, a new app has been rolled out called Prescription Check, which provides online refractions and is currently available in ten states. The home-based exam takes twenty minutes using a computer and smart phone, but is only available to consumers who self-report being between 18-50 years of age and who do not require reading glasses or progressives.

2020Now “The doctor is always in.”

2020Now offers fifteen-minute exams using HD video conferencing and ophthalmologists. Patients are assisted with onsite devices like auto-refractors, auto-keratometers, and auto-lensometers. The collected data is transmitted to a remote technician who then performs subjective refraction and vision analysis tests, via teleconference. All the collected information is sent electronically to an ophthalmologist, who then sends a signed prescription within minutes. The goal is for any brick and mortar store that engages the company to then capture that patient and sell them eyeglasses. 

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