Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, president and CEO, New England College of Optometry, helped attendees extract valuable ideas from Weinswig and Sarasohn-Kahn’s presentations. Together with Ann Hoscheit, OD, FAAO, Dave Brown, president and CEO of IDOC and James Rosin, co-president of Rosin Eyecare, he explored the topics in the keynote presentations and discussed how attendees can take away actionable ideas and information from the Summit to help them compete in this new customer- and patient-centric environment. He also recognized the importance of current and future optometry students to be able to rely on the continued relevance and future existence of their chosen profession, as new technologies affect its evolution.

Serving the ‘Pa-sumer’
The first topic of discussion examined the new behaviors of the patient/consumer, a.k.a. “pa-sumer,” and the anticipated corresponding changes in eyecare. Dr. Hoscheit noted that despite the differences in care delivery in urban, suburban, and rural settings, the overall goal is to “reduce friction” in accessing care. She cited integrated patient information forms as an opportunity to cut down on redundancy and increase accuracy. Making eyecare delivery more efficient will reduce the length of visits, benefiting both the patient and the provider.

Rosin highlighted age as “a segmenting factor” affecting the degree and nature of change in behaviors of patients interacting with his practices, which are seeing a significant increase in appointment bookings initiated online, as well as general inquiries submitted via email. He appreciated the value of using data and trends to anticipate and deliver on the new demands of the pa-sumer.

Brown encouraged providers to “meet patients where they want to be met,” and on their timetable, citing the potential for subscription services which have not yet taken off in our industry.

‘Boundaryless Retail’
Dr. Purcell then asked the panelists about the opportunities and challenges of “boundaryless retail”—what can ECPs do to close the gaps in service delivery at a time of rising consumer expectations? Dr. Hoscheit opined that providers should be “leaning retail,” and noted the opportunities afforded by patient engagement tools to stay in touch before and after visits with Artificial Intelligence (AI) opportunities abound for this purpose and also in the back office to facilitate coding, billing, and reimbursements. She, along with Brown and Rosin, all stressed the need to honor privacy and protect all patient data.

(L to R) Howard Purcell, OD, Ann Hoscheit, OD, James Rosin and Dave Brown discussed how attendees could take away actionable ideas and information from the Summit to help them compete in this new customer- and patient-centric environment.

Tapping into the Data
Dr. Purcell posed this question to the panelists to address from both the clinical and retail standpoints. Per Rosin, “where the consumer wants to be is where we need to be,” including safe and responsible online refraction, the ability to shop online for eyewear and contact lenses, and face chat with providers outside of visits. With the frequency of patient visits approximately once every 25 to 27 months, he noted the value of using data to help shorten that cycle and—using education and engagement—to encourage receipt of care in alignment with both need and insurance coverage to increase eyewear purchasing.

Brown noted IDOC’s mission to help ODs interpret data effectively, so they can make the best decisions for their patients and their practices. To that end, Rosin noted that he is working to identify important “drivers” of patient satisfaction, ascertained from survey data, from the appropriate timing of in-office greetings to desired duration of eyeglass order fulfillment.

Do the ‘Co-bot’
In a rapidly evolving landscape which includes telemedicine, Dr. Purcell noted that clinicians need to effectively “co-bot:” leveraging the appropriate blend of human and robot capabilities to meet the convenience expectations of the pa-sumer while delivering the highest quality and coordination of care. He and the panelists also acknowledged that as telehealth continues to emerge in the eyecare space, there is a better understanding of how it can work to [the OD’s] benefit, rather than replacing him/her.

Dr. Hoscheit said, “we are still human beings with a desire to be with each other,” noting the value of marrying tech with a personal touch, such as the ability to text a (properly protected) photo to one’s doctor, who can follow up with a personal phone call. She also referenced: technology that can inform staff regarding which eyewear options patients liked but ultimately didn’t buy, offering targeted offers to incentivize a post-visit purchase; and the potential to lower the contact lens dropout rate by providing more continuous support for new wearers via messaging, video and other follow-up.

The Discovery Process
Dr. Purcell asked the panelists to weigh in on how ECPs use the data and tools available to educate patients about the importance of eyecare and ensure that optometry is accessible to patients where, when, and how they want it, while also using technology to help patients decide on their practice for care. Rosin noted the importance of “managing your [online] properties,” with emphasis on Google and Yelp profiles. He works with a digital marketing agency to send surveys and request reviews from designated patients in order to enhance ratings and facilitate favorable online search results.

Rosin then referenced the power of search-optimized video: showcasing positive patient feedback on social media, the practice website and in e-newsletters. He also stressed the value of using technology to amplify word-of-mouth and fuel referral programs.

Brown advised practice personnel to interact with the patient/consumer more, and consistently, around their need for eyecare and quality eyewear by producing valuable educational and style content and sharing it regularly on a well-maintained website and social media. He noted the value in having patients learn more from their own doctor, not other sources, and to personalize the practice’s digital presence with accessible elements like staff profiles, engaging office photos, and group outings.

‘Now What?’ A Roadmap
As the session concluded, panelists parsed how to identify and activate promising ideas from the Summit. Rosin recommended a “testing mentality” that centers on choosing one or two new ideas to experiment with in order to “make progress with an imperfect idea,” rather than endlessly tweaking a “perfect idea” that never gets implemented.

Dr. Hoscheit highlighted the importance of a consistent experience at all levels in the practice, with key goals to “hire right, train well, and engage our employees” to deliver the best experience for patients and staff, both before and after the office visit, to retain patients and facilitate referrals. Brown noted the tremendous need that the vision industry fills across demographics, with growth opportunities abound—but “the clock is ticking, and we can’t have our heads in the sand about what’s coming.”

In closing, Dr. Purcell urged attendees to embrace and initiate incremental change, and to remember “it’s up to us” not to let control of retail considerations leave our purview as eyecare providers.

— Sara Bonizio, Contributing Editor