NEW YORK—Wrapping up with the proverbial bang, the Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit virtual conference concluded its four-session series last week with its much-anticipated “Stepping Up the Patient Experience” program. The two-hour session took a deep dive into the way digital technologies are bringing doctors, patients and consumers into the healthcare process in exciting new ways. The session was highlighted by an eclectic mix of speakers drawn from the technology, retail and vision care fields who discussed how new tactics and technologies are transforming patient engagement by blending physical experiences with online, virtual ones.

The engaging program marked the final session of the series, "AFTERSHOCKS: Remaking Healthcare's Future, Vision Beyond 2020," the VM Global Leadership Summit's major theme. The series began Sept. 30 and concluded on Oct. 21.

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Note that all VM Summit registered attendees will have access to the unique Summit platform at until Dec. 31, 2020. This platform enables registrants OnDemand access to all sessions, segments and a special Resource Center that contains some of the speakers' presentations, as well as supplemental content and speaker details.

Registration is still available to the VM Global Leadership Summit and includes access to anytime OnDemand viewing for all four virtual VM Summit sessions, all access to the Vision Monday Summit virtual platform, networking with other attendees, and exclusive access to Summit attendee-only content after the event. Sessions can be viewed in full or in part. Registration details, speaker bios and the full agenda are posted here.

The Frontier of Digital Health

Andrew Karp

 Robin Raskin
In his opening comments, Andrew Karp, VM’s group editor, lenses and technology, cited important new developments such as contact lenses that can monitor a patient’s glucose level as being at “the frontier of digital health.” He described the frontier as “a vast ecosystem consisting of countless digital devices connected to the Internet of Things and transmitting continuous data to doctors, clinicians and researchers.” As Karp noted, “Every device is a touch point for patients to engage with healthcare providers, anytime and anywhere.”

Karp said that personalized health information technology, powered by artificial intelligence, is rapidly making its way into our daily lives and is seamlessly integrating with our increasingly connected world. “It is fundamentally changing the patient experience with healthcare. When patients take a more active role in monitoring and maintaining their own health, it increases compliance, improves outcomes and often lowers cost,” he observed.

Karp then introduced Robin Raskin, founder of the Digital Health Summit at CES and a leading commentator on consumer healthcare technology trends. In her presentation titled, “Tech Don’t Fail Us Now,” Raskin said that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated several trends such as the rising popularity of telehealth that are shaping the future of digital healthcare. “Telehealth is here to stay,” she asserted, but added, “first experiences, like first dates, are not always perfect.”

Raskin also noted, “We’re moving from an ‘I’m sick, take care of me intermittently’ to a world of continuous monitoring.” She singled out the importance of digital therapeutics—“Where an iPhone is your aspirin”—the rise of DIY (Do It Yourself) Health, as well as the growing role of emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality and nanotech in transforming the patient experience with healthcare.

She cited the power of quantum computing for conducting “massive experiments and synthesizing human organs,” spotlighted the development of digital tattoos, ingestibles and smart bandages—“a little out there, but with a COVID accelerant, really moving along”—and called artificial intelligence “the biggest thing to influence health in our lifetime.”

Raskin’s takeaway: Consumers are getting used to the DIY healthcare model. “Meet them where they are,” she advised Summit attendees.

Creating a Satisfying Patient Experience

Led by CEO Sue Downes, the senior executive team at MyEyeDr.—one of the fastest-growing eyecare groups in the U.S., founded “to help patients live their best lives"—shared with Summit attendees how they have accelerated investment in integrated technologies to “transform and modernize the patient experience to where it needs to be.” Downes noted that the eyecare industry has “lagged,” and despite the many great technologies being developed, “nothing is working together.”

Sue Downes


Artis Beatty, OD

Angela McCoy

Christina Perraud

Of the industry attitude toward innovations such as online refraction, she said, “We’ve moved from thinking that it will never happen in our lifetime; to being scared, to accepting. And now we’re ready to embrace.” She noted that the industry is still challenged with “how it all integrates together” to truly serve up a more personalized, engaged experience the patient “owns.”

Downes emphasized, “We need to move our industry to the health care category. We’re always operators and retailers, but it starts with the health care component.” She introduced Dr. Artis Beatty, MyEyeDr.’s chief medical officer, who expanded on how optometry’s positioning as an essential health care service enabled MyEyeDr. to meet patient needs "in a new and more immediate way.”

While optometry visits were considered essential on the patient side, whether for vision correction and/or treatment of ocular disease, Dr. Beatty highlighted the importance of industry leaders’ work to bring eyecare “to the forefront” and designate ECPs as essential providers when many areas were under a stay-at-home order. Dr. Beatty said, “in a time of crisis, we needed to be positioned just like the other professions,” to get optometry the “parity that was needed from a payor standpoint,” as well as being able to secure PPE.

Downes said, “It’s on us” to come together to send the right message about the value of eyecare. Of this, Dr. Beatty remarked, “we haven't, as an industry, done a good job broadcasting” the scope and importance of optometry, and its central function within healthcare overall.

Dr. Beatty noted that the team “didn’t change the goalposts due to COVID,” but rather had the opportunity to accelerate implementation of technological developments already being considered. Downes echoed, “COVID increased the urgency around” changes to patient experience and “our need to change to survive,” bringing telemedicine “to the forefront—not just for emergencies, but as an integral part of how we deliver care to patients and make it more convenient.”

Dr. Beatty cited the group’s “Great Mindset Reset” as necessary to create a good remote experience while meeting standards of care and the patient experience. He noted that the spring “pause” allowed their acquisition-based group to bring all practices to a uniform EHR standard, think about synchronous and asynchronous visits, and how to best provide patients with remote care while meeting the expectations they were accustomed to in-office.

Next, Angela McCoy, COO and Christina Perraud, VP of planning and purchasing, discussed how MyEyeDr. “considered the entire journey to identify key elements of the patient experience,” creating a holistic, integrated, omni-channel portal while streamlining operations to the benefit of both patient and staff—online, in-office, and at all points in between. Reducing time spent in the office, especially during the pandemic, shows “we truly value patients’ time and safety.”

Perraud identified virtual try-on as a key element in shifting ownership of patient engagement to the patient and allowing frame selections to be organized, sanitized and ready upon arrival. McCoy also noted that lifestyle and visual needs indicated during the patient intake process inform pre-visit lens education and recommendations, building a virtual lens tray.

Of designing and implementing MyEyeDr.’s patient experience portal, McCoy reiterated “Patient time is precious”—they want to be seen on their terms, whether it’s in-office, virtual visits, or curbside pickup. She emphasized the importance of digital intake forms in minimizing administrative time on arrival, along with insurance pre-verification and explaining insurance benefits “in a way that [patients] actually understand,” to help maximize their coverage. The form also collects information about the patient’s needs and communicates these to the OD during the visit, rendering ECPs better prepared.

Perraud highlighted other key features of the portal including access to prescriptions, order history, an order status tracker, and contact lens reordering, along with eye health and product education, and promotions. In addition, McCoy said that enhanced appointment scheduling capabilities have allowed MyEyeDr. more flexibility in meeting patient needs while “optimizing capacity and reducing no-shows.” She listed other improvements made possible during the pandemic pause, including enhanced training, increased adoption of video-based communications, and streamlined analytics.

Downes closed by stating “it is time for us to come together as one. The healthcare message must be the foundation of everything we do and everything the patient hears and sees,” with emphasis on the importance of eye health and quality optical products delivered via the virtual tray. “It’s going to take the entire industry working together to achieve this.”

New Look Puts Tech into Practice
New Look has increased its size to more than 400 stores over the past eight years via strategic acquisition and rollups, and also entered the U.S. market through the acquisition of the Edward Beiner group in Florida, CEO Antoine Amiel said. “This expansion has given us a coast-to-coast footprint,” Amiel noted.

Antoine Amiel

Jean-Michel Maltais

Eric Varady

Eric Babin

One of the factors contributing to the Canadian company's growth is its attention to organic growth and its use of new technology to enhance the patient experience, Amiel said during his presentation. The “biggest driver in organic growth is about elevating the customer journey,” which means making this journey shorter, simpler and more precise for the customer and more efficient for the New Look stores in terms of productivity, conversion and traffic, he added. One key is creating a very precise face scan, which is the starting point to the patient profile.

New Look’s Jean-Michel Maltais, SVP, Omnichannel, provided more depth about the company’s omnichannel strategy, noting that there are several elements that need to work together to make this approach to customer experience successful. It begins with the research and eventual mapping of the dream customer journey, or seamless customer experience.

“But in addition to that, we also look at creating a unified and centralized data warehouse with easy [access] so that we can measure the performance of each of the steps of that journey and we can optimize it, so there is a learning cycle that is in place,” Maltais said.

Supporting these efforts at New Look is a new product that has just launched that allows a customer/patient to use a mobile app to schedule an appointment from and do a facial scan, among other things. Eric Varady, founder of Topology, the firm that developed this technology, followed Maltais’ presentation with more details about this new optical platform.

Topology is focused on both elevating the in-store experience for the optician and patient, as well as being able to deliver these services remotely. “It’s the teleoptical equivalent to the rise of refractive telemedicine,” he said. “We’ve been working hand-in-hand with New Look Vision Group to focus on designing the interface and the product with the optician at the center of the experience, which I think is something that has never really been done before,” Varady explained.

The goal is to enable the optician deliver the “services that customers truly value,” he added, noting that these services include perfect frame fit and medically precise lens measurements.

Eric Babin, president of New Look’s Iris Visual Group, noted that his division may not have moved to the online sphere as quickly as others, but this was due to a lack of appropriate tech solutions offered by prospective partners that provided the highest quality for vision. But the Topology platform changed all of this, he noted. “When we met [Topology] the first time and saw this technology, I knew it was the time to go online,” he added.

He said this technology fits with New Look’s mission to improve the customer experience. “It’s not only a show that we need to deliver, but also we really need to engage the consumer in the process of purchasing eyeglasses or any kind of product to improve their vision.”

The Topology platform also enables Iris Visual Group to build upon its existing innovation and also to elevate the expertise of the staff in its stores.

‘It’s Not Too Late’
Next, VM’s Andrew Karp introduced Andy Bilinsky, co-founder and CEO of Lensabl, who joined the Summit to share how this four year-old, Los Angeles-based online optical retailer and telehealth company is building out new services and capabilities to interact with patients and enhance the customer experience.

“It’s no secret that the optical industry is behind the curve when it comes to e-commerce and consumer facing technology,” Bilinsky said. “The industry can no longer sit back and wait for customers to come to us.” The goal of his “one-stop shop for all things optical online” is to replicate the in-store experience as closely as possible, meeting demand for an online process that is “simpler, faster and more affordable.”

Andy Bilinsky

Bilinsky shared how Lensabl expanded on their success of their lens replacement offering to build a centralized e-commerce destination for all vision care needs, including eyewear and contact lens sales, an online vision test, and measurement tools.

He remarked on the importance of integration and Lensabl’s partnerships with companies such as FittingBox to provide virtual try-on of different frame and lens options, along with fit and style recommendations via face diagramming. He noted that these offerings have increased sales, reduced customer service inquiries and returns, and elevated brand engagement via the platform’s interactive social sharing feature.

While recognizing that the comprehensive eye exam is “one of the most necessary in-person experiences in vision care,” Bilinsky acknowledged the value for patients to also have access to online services such as a visual acuity test (a “savior” during the pandemic), prescription renewals, lensometry and measurement-taking, which Lensabl offers through integrations with companies including Visibly and 6over6.

“This idea of unlimited access has become even more important during the pandemic. Our online business model inherently lends itself to a world where leaving the house has become scarce and stores and doctor’s offices have limited operations, if they’re even open at all.”

Bilinsky noted that while this unique time has created an opportunity to showcase advancements in technology to those who didn’t know they existed, “it’s important that we continue to provide an experience that keeps [customers] coming back, long after the pandemic is over.”

With increasing numbers of Millennials and Gen Zers entering the eyewear market, Bilinsky said “creating an exceptional online experience is imperative: they grew up online. It’s where they feel comfortable, it’s where they continue to spend their time, and it’s where they shop.”

With the advent of Lensabl’s new telehealth optometry network, along with Lensabl Plus—a customized, subscription-based online vision benefits platform redeemable entirely online, aiming to “remove the complexities and friction of a traditional vision plan”—he affirmed that while the optical industry “has been known to move slowly,” Lensabl will continue to “lead by example, innovate, and provide an unmatched experience online.”

Enhancing the Patient Experience Despite a Pandemic
In the closing segment, “Vision Voices,” Annie Hicks, LDO of SeePort Optometry, North Port, Fla. and Jennifer Stewart, OD, partner, Norwalk Eye Care, Norwalk, Conn. and co-founder of Performance 20/20 in Stamford, Conn. shared insights about how their practices have responded to the pandemic while maintaining a high level of personalized care.

Marge Axelrad (l) and Annie Hicks, LDO

Annie Hicks, LDO

Jennifer Stewart, OD

In a one on one interview with VM’s Marge Axelrad, Hicks described how her practice embraced new technology to enhance the patient experience, from quarantine and shutdown right through to the present. SeePort Optometry, located in southwest Florida, serves a variety of patients including growing families, new retirees and snowbirds.

When the practice had to close its doors due to CDC recommendations, Hicks was faced with the challenge of still being able to serve patients in the community. “I was preparing to come in and take photos of every single frame on our board. But then I had the thought of checking out Frames Data and lo and behold they had a whole virtual frame gallery. That was really the starting point for me to explore other technologies and options. It really got the ball rolling. By noon the next day, Frames Data’s My Frame Gallery was live on my website. I was so impressed.”

Today, SeePort is still using the My Frame Gallery to make in-patient visits more productive by pre-selling eyewear. Hicks said the gallery has become “part of the patient experience—actually it helps us give patients more of VIP experience because people feel like they are being catered to.” Once they come out of the exam lane and get handed off to the optician, “their wish list of eyewear is laid out for them to select from.” Hicks concluded, “It just checks so many boxes—it cuts down on trying on frames and patients spend less time in the optical which helps with the social distancing requirements. It makes for a great experience.”

Dr. Stewart is a partner at Norwalk Eye Care and she is a co-founder and chief vision officer for Performance 20/20. The two businesses are both located in bustling Fairfield County in Connecticut. She addressed crisis, innovation and the need to reinvent the patient experience due to COVID. Stewart said she spent time during the shutdown thinking about how to reopen the practices and how to grow the businesses going forward.

She noted there are so many ways that technology has changed the patient experience, much of it due to the pandemic. Office protocols have completely changed ranging from the way patients enter the office to disinfecting, sterilization and keeping patients socially distanced.

She said, “However, if we not telling our patients what we’re doing they don’t know the measures we are taking to keep everybody safe. We spend a lot of time communicating with our patients through Solutionreach, using texts, emails and newsletters, so they know every safety measure we have taken from the moment they walk in until they leave the office.”

Communication has been key throughout the crisis. “We did have to close our offices to in-person routine care in March and April but reopened in May as part of Phase 1 reopening program in Connecticut. Throughout our closure we made sure to tell our patients on a weekly basis what services we were still able to provide including contact lens orders, telemedicine appointments and frame dispenses." Stewart said that the practice even gained new patients during the crisis because some people could not communicate with their current eye doctors.

Telemedicine is another way that the patient experience has changed and Stewart said, “We were able to provide medical care during the shutdown which kept patients out of ERs. We’ve actually continued to use telemedicine for patients who might have been exposed to COVID or just don’t feel safe coming into the office. I think telemedicine will always have a place in our office.”

She concluded, “I hope you can continue to look at technology and think about ways it can enhance the patient experience and enhance your practice as well.”

The Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit is sponsored by Platinum Sponsors: Essilor, Luxottica and VSP Global. Gold sponsors are CareCredit, Ocuco, Think About Your Eyes and The Vision Council. The Silver Sponsor is Alcon.