By Andrew Karp: Group Editor, Lenses + Technology

View a pdf of Making the Digital Connection

NEW YORK—The movement of digital lenses from margin to mainstream over the past few years is a uniquely optical success story. The result of innovative lens design and cutting edge manufacturing technology, digital progressive addition lenses first emerged in Europe and Asia in the late ’90s, with Seiko, Zeiss and Rodenstock leading the way. Eyecare professionals soon found that many of their presbyopic patients were willing to pay a premium for digital lenses in exchange for clearer vision and greater visual freedom.

Since the mid-2000s, Hoya, Essilor, Shamir, Zeiss, Seiko and other suppliers have expended considerable resources introducing their digital lens designs and free-form manufacturing technologies into the U.S. market. Thanks to their efforts and those of their wholesale lab partners, optometrists and opticians here no longer view digital lenses as exotic. Today, they commonly prescribe and dispense a wide assortment of products, from entry-level designs to optimized and personalized designs.

Practitioners say they are embracing digital lenses because they allow them to deliver a higher level of patient care and because the lenses are profitable. Many report that digital lenses now account for the majority of their progressive lens sales in both units and dollars. The recent introduction of digital single vision lenses is further expanding the market to the next generation of patients.

As ECPs increasingly integrate digital lenses into their practices, they rely more heavily on their surfacing lab, which now functions as both a distributor and manufacturer. The lab’s sales rep, often working closely with the manufacturer’s sales rep, must educate the practitioners and their staff about the performance characteristics of digital lenses, including the differences between the dozens of competing brands and lens designs. The lab must also teach the staff about the differences between conventional prescriptions and the compensated prescriptions that accompany digital lenses and help them adjust to dispensing lenses they can no longer measure with a lensmeter.

Just as important, the lab must work closely with its customers to ensure that the patient’s prescription—which now often includes personalized measurements such as vertex distance, pantoscopic tilt and face form—is accurately communicated to the lab. The lab’s customer service team makes sure the Rx data is complete and accurate, and they advise the practice on which lens is best for complex prescriptions.

These factors illustrate how digital lenses are enhancing the relationship between the practice and the lab. The following interviews with lab executives and their customers reveal how both sides view the changes.