NEW YORK—As more independent eyecare professionals start to lean in to connecting with patients with more online options on their websites, they are finding that their embrace of digital tools that can integrate with existing systems are adding a new dimension to how patients perceive the practice and use new online connections to increase the productivity of office visits.

Dr. Ansel Johnson, Vision Salon Eyecare Associates, Blue Island, Ill., acknowledged, “We’ve had a very medically-focused eyecare practice. That’s kind of been my passion. But with the pandemic, we did start to think of things particularly on the optical side, in new ways. We’ve got a lot of high-end technology and the latest equipment and instruments to help manage our patients with diabetes and glaucoma and offer a wide range of services. But optical is still a significant component of my practice.”

Dr. Johnson noted that the practice had been offering contact lens ordering online for several years. Prior to the pandemic he wanted to explore “some sort” of online ordering for eyewear. “We see what’s happening in our industry and it can be frustrating as big online players like Warby Parker start to come for our patients. We didn’t want to be one of those practices that won’t consider change.”

For Vision Salon, Dr. Johnson has built a strong outreach to the community and views the practice’s website as a significant element of those relationships. “What you’re really building is trust with patients and that’s why we pay a lot of attention to our website and our social media and other forms of outreach. When we added in Optify we saw that as a way of offering new options for people to see the collections we have.

“And then once frames are pre-selected and they work with our opticians, they learn more about measurement and fit and that underscores that trust of our expertise on the optical side. I had looked at other services and systems but felt that Optify has several robust options and we’re learning more all the time. We just implemented it in August of last year after preparing for the process.”

Another optometrist who is seeing the benefits and who is struck by the enthusiasm of her staff for the practice’s online shop’s selection options is Dr. Lorrie Sorrenson, Lakeline Vision Source in Cedar Park, Texas. The practice’s online browsing shop is supported by Optify. Dr. Sorrenson said, “We’ve gone through numerous attempts to do this at our office. We’re not sure that selling glasses online at this time is meaningful, however, our online shop is extraordinarily helpful in getting patients to do some shopping before they come in. And, my opticians absolutely love it and would love it if all of our patients would take advantage of the process, they are so sold on it.”

Dr, Sorrenson added, “I’ve interviewed my opticians and basically all of them said it saves at least 15 minutes on the frame choice process for them—and that’s significant. Every single communication we have with the patient before they arrive has the info about the link to go online and pre-select, our confirmation email, our text the day prior and Optify also sends their own communications out for us, too.

“We started this in 2021. We can see in our info that a patient’s visit has a flag on it and that our Optify queue can help our team get a tray pulled. It’s upped our patient capture rate by 3 percent to 4 percent already. As long as you make it real simple and get your team involved, it’s a real win for everyone. Those patients inclined to buy frames tend to use it, and their use of the pre-selects mean they’ll tend to buy those frames from you, so it’s a win-win.”

Dave Barton, Optify CEO, and his team bring their own opticianry and optical expertise to the forefront for clients. Despite all the prep that was underway prior to the pandemic, Optify actually launched in April 2020 and talks about the new opportunities that a range of customizable online communication, messaging, try-on and optical product fitting and measuring knowledge can come into play to help streamline tasks for the practice’s optical staff.

This also helps the practice realize untapped revenue, or increased capture rates and it creates new patient perceptions of the practice.

“These automations,” said Barton, can take the lift off of the practice staff and the software reaches out to the patients to get them to the site—via special messaging emails and social media. Then once the patient is on the practice website they’re having a modern experience by exploring frames and style options—they can buy or they can be encouraged to pre-select and make their in-office visit more productive.”

He said, “Working with us for online is something that would be so costly for a practice to work with some of the general e-commerce options out there that have no experience at all with the optical sector, unlike us and this is all we do.

“Patients have been trained for the last decade, not to go to the optometrist website to look at glasses. So now you’ve got to train them to go to your site. The Vision Council’s internet influence research reports that 44 percent of ECPs’ patients visit somebody’s website to look at glasses before they come in. So much of what we’re doing now is helping to reeducate patients about what the potential is now for online options and choices. Glasses are a buying journey and we’re helping ECPs become a part of that process.”