The Future of Optometry - Eyecare Megatrends and Growth Opportunities

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Independent ODs can flourish in the future if they recognize the megatrends that are shaping the delivery of eyecare and the opportunities for growth before them.

MEGATREND
Digital technology is transforming medical care.
Online refraction is a development analogous to what is occurring throughout medicine as a tool to monitor chronic disease. This is but one way that digital technology is transforming health care delivery. Many analysts foresee the not-so-distant day when digital communications are so ubiquitous that they become the primary way the population accesses information, interacts with other people and makes transactions.

Many ECPs are behind the curve in using digital communications to interact with patients. Many ignore the potential of digital communication to maintain contact with patients between their infrequent visits or to manage the revenue cycle. Over time, it will become increasingly vital that independent ODs master the new digital technologies.

OPPORTUNITY
Expand medical eyecare services.

Demographic trends, insurer needs and the projected professional work force all point to growing opportunity for ODs to expand medical eyecare services. The aging of the population assures growth in demand for these services. Many ocular conditions, including dry eye and allergy, remain underdiagnosed and undertreated. Diagnostic testing continues to be underutilized as a means of early detection of sight-threatening disorders.

Full-scope optometry is an excellent defensive strategy against commercial providers who are primarily interested in selling eyeglasses.

MEGATREND
Private equity investment in eyecare is growing.

In recent years, there has been an uptick in private equity investor interest in eyecare. This has occurred in a low interest rate environment with a surplus of uninvested capital seeking higher returns. Eyecare is an attractive investment arena because the business size and growth fundamentals are sound, and the market remains fragmented and able to yield synergies through consolidation and centralized management.

There are a variety of business models being pursued by consolidators. Some are acquiring independent OD practices and groups to form local or regional chains under central management. Consolidation provides an exit strategy to OD owners nearing retirement and is a means for other ODs to capture the equity in their practices and achieve freedom from management chores while maintaining a comfortable annual income. Other consolidators focus on ophthalmology practices, offering similar benefits to acquired practices. A third model is for consolidators to combine optometric and ophthalmology practices under the same roof to offer patients a comprehensive array of eyecare services.

OPPORTUNITY
Upgrade the patient experience.

The fundamental competitive advantage enjoyed by independent ODs is the depth of their relationships with patients, which relates directly to the service experience of patients.

Surveys show that most patients are happy with their ODs, and virtually all ODs rate their service as “above average.” But the reality is that few practices give consistent and continual attention to their service process, and most gear their process more to efficiency, reduction of abuse and office convenience than to patient satisfaction. Designing a patient-centric service process is one of the best ways independent ODs have to defend against inroads from commercial providers.

MEGATREND
ODs’ role in health care is expanding.

Over the past 20 years, ODs have come to play an ever-larger role in eyecare and health care delivery in the U.S. ODs have assumed a growing role in the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease. Increasingly, ODs are being relied on by insurers to detect and monitor chronic health conditions such as diabetes. ODs are attractive to insurers in this role because patients have easier access to ODs than do many primary care providers. ODs also may charge lower fees than MDs to direct-pay patients for the same services. And the patient experience in OD offices is often more satisfying. The stagnant supply of MDs assures that ODs’ role in health care will continue to expand in the years ahead.

OPPORTUNITY
Elevate patients’ value perception of an eye exam.

Independent ODs have traditionally been able to charge more for the products and services they provide because they offer a higher level of personalized service. In the face of growing commercial competition and the looming threat of online refraction, independent ODs have a greater need to increase patient perceptions of the value of their services. This includes raising patient perceptions of the value of yearly eye exams. Today, many patients think of an exam as a mechanical, impersonal measurement step necessary to purchase eyewear or contact lenses. Many do not perceive a yearly exam as a high-value preventative step to preserve sight.