The optical industry is feeling the accelerating pace of change in our field. As we heard from Marge Axelrad in the opening remarks of the 2018 VM Summit, “competition can come from anywhere and everywhere—and it has.” A rapidly changing consumer mindset is bringing a new set of expectations to the vision care space, as explored by Erin Byrne and Jason Dorsey in the Leadership Challenge session.

Health is a major trend impacting technology, noted Erin Byrne, CEO of GreyHealth Group, in her VM Summit session on the intersecting dynamics of technology and health care and the agility required by industry leaders in this shifting terrain.

“Change isn’t coming, it’s here,” said Byrne. “What transformed commerce is now transforming health.” The availability and actionability of data has fostered disruption, creating new paradigms for traditional markets. No longer is the doctor’s office the first and most trusted line of interaction with health care; technology provides ready access to information about health online—and that amount has been doubling every three months.

The “anxiety and trust issues” Byrne recounted as a hallmark of the Millennial generation are due in part to this information overload, and the hunger is growing for more still. And with this reliance on online sources comes concerns about content curation—who is providing, reviewing and maintaining this information?

GreyHealth Group’s Erin Byrne said “Change isn’t coming, it’s here. What transformed commerce is now transforming health care.”
Millennials, who are beginning to juggle caring for their aging parents with taking care of their own kids (and themselves), are trying to do so while mindful of their often-significant debt (usually from education); their definition of health prizes preventive care to stay healthy, and they think about their well-being as a factor of personal wealth.

According to Byrne, with this comes an expectation of value, and with a tendency to challenge convention/the status quo, Millennials are seeking out remote medical access as a means to direct their own care. Before, if a patient had a problem, he or she would call the doctor. Now, the process is more proactive and interactive—patients Google symptoms and visit health groups on Facebook, where they seek out preventive/“wellness” tips as well as DIY treatments.

She cited vision care as Millennials’ “point of entry into health” and that with families’ “chief health officers”—women—making more than two-thirds of health decisions, eyecare professionals have to ask: “how do we help the CHO feel confident in her decisions?”

“The customer experience needs to BE digital, not just include it,” Byrne said.

With doctors increasingly becoming a “secondary source” for Millennial patients (who research and “listen” online, on their own schedule, then ask their provider) Byrne strongly recommended that clinicians “become part of the experience” by supplementing the in-person visit with well-vetted online resources such as articles, infographics and videos.

To establish loyalty among Millennial patients, Byrne urged practice managers to create informing and engaging experiences—not to “talk at them” via commercials. They are increasingly open to “retail health care,” such as receiving immunizations in a chain pharmacy, as well as self-service (including online “eye tests”), in addition to messaging apps, which are seeing growing engagement by people seeking care. At a time of increasing fear of tech’s impact on the provider, Byrne advised ECPs to consider how they can build clinician influence into the patient experience, and extend that influence beyond the visit.

Within their organizations, Byrne urged leaders to “operationalize innovation” into all aspects of business and embrace a “partnership perspective” to expand capacity and thinking via pilot programs; to invest people and dollars in innovation teams and establish dedicated times that employees can spend on these projects (with goals audacious enough to possibly fail); and to hire a “catalyst innovator” as well as non-traditional “kids in the garage.” Byrne referred to the mentality at her own company, GreyHealth Group, as a “30 year-old startup.”

In closing, Byrne called voice activation “the new Wild West:” a key driver of change in health care access and delivery due to its real-time ability to influence and prompt care. Now, in addition to (or instead of) typing or speaking questions into a search engine and getting a list of answers to read through, virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa provide conversational answers to questions ranging from “Do I have dry eye?” to “Am I normal?” With these programs reshaping access to digital health information, Byrne encouraged attendees to think about where these programs get information and how it is delivered.