NEW YORK—Technology and innovation have been key focus areas for ECPs and retailers for at least a decade, but when the pandemic hit in March 2020 it forced practices and retail groups to step up the pace on change and the speed at which they adapt to this new operating environment for patients and providers. This adaption to change and new technology were the topics at the final session and special panel discussion of the recent VM Summit, which was titled, “How ECPS and Retailers Are Embracing Rapid Change, A Special Panel Discussion.”
These influential “vision voices”—Mick Hall, vice president Bard Optical; Brian Chou, OD of Revision Optometry; Aaron Schubach, CEO of Standard Optical, and Michael Bender, CEO, Eyemart Express—discuss how their companies and practices are prioritizing investment decisions around current challenges, including staffing at the practice, telehealth adoption and the ways in which new technologies are being implemented to improve efficiency and enhance the patient experience.

Vision Monday's Marge Axelrad moderated the discussion. “The adoption of technology and the ways in which technology has enhanced relationships with patients and customers has come about in many new ways,” Axelrad noted as she kicked off the discussion. “We want to better understand how these opportunities and new technologies vary for different kinds of businesses. They have a lot in common, of course, but they have different distinct challenges. How did you at your practice or company prioritize your investments?” she asked.
In response, Hall noted that Bard Optical expected a backlog of patients waiting to get back into their ECP’s office once the worst of the pandemic lifted. “But they were going to be worried, of course, and [curious about] what a trip to the optometrist was going to look like during the pandemic.”
So, Bard moved to make this visit “as seamless as possible with as few bumps in the road as we could.” To this end, the practice opted to provide free screening fundus photos to every patient. “One of the reasons for that was to lessen the amount of time that they would have to be with the OD,” he explained. “The results of that fundus photo would be available to the OD to look at and to narrow the nature of the exam and therefore shorten their time in our office.”

For Eyemart Express, ensuring patient convenience and safety also was a driver of the company’s actions during the height of the pandemic, according to Bender.
“We already had underway an effort to take advantage of one of our strengths, which is that we at Eyemart Express have decided to dedicate [space to] full-service labs in every one of our stores,” he noted. “That allows us to turn around a pair of glasses very quickly. And we use that capability to build out what is now a great offering for our customers. It's the ability to [provide them] buy online and pick up in store service.”
He added “We really accelerated that effort quite considerably during the pandemic period, in part as a result of the push from customers saying I need to have my glasses.”
Another element that has become critical in the wake of changes in patient behavior is the focus on good, strong communication, according to Standard Optical’s Schubach.
“We sent videos [to our patients] that were customized from each location, as a way of letting them know that we can't wait to see them soon and stay home and be safe,” he said. “But what it's really taught us to do is to listen and to communicate with them year-round all the time.

"Whether it's getting feedback from them surveys, or video messaging or text messaging about where their glasses are, that's all part of the experience. The patient experience is not just what happens in your location, but [rather] it's the omni channel, the experience with the brand as a whole. A lot of that now is happening digitally or remotely,” Schubach added.
Dr. Chou of Revision Optometry agreed that addressing patient experience and striving to be more efficient for patients is a key to future success, but there are pitfalls that have to be avoided. “We can look at some of the big online retailers and what they are doing with online prescription renewal and [it seems to indicate] that there's organic demand for these sorts of things. But where we have to be careful as a profession, I feel, is that if the convenience is at the expense of what is good patient care, we do have to draw a line in the sand,” he said.
He added, “One of the things that I did want to add to is that the incorporation of technology does not necessarily have to be an expensive proposition. It can be as simple as the patient- doctor handoff [being facilitated] with just a $20 remote electronic doorbell from Amazon to call the staff into the exam room. This [compares to] my previous two offices, where we had sophisticated visual paging systems that cost over $10,000 each. So there are many great opportunities and we can all learn from one another.”
This segment, "How ECPs and Retailers are Embracing Rapid Change,” was an element of the Oct. 27 "Retail & Healthcare: Upended!" virtual summit, which included an exclusive look at the advent of The Metaverse and a look at “What’s the Store For?” session led by customer relationship export Melissa Gonzalez, founder and CEO of the Lion’esque Group.
The virtual VM Leadership Summit is now available on-demand for registered Summit attendees. Also available on the exclusive VM Summit platform are many resources from featured VM Summit speakers and on-demand session segments from the prior three VM Leadership Summit sessions this year—June 23 VirtualEYES on telehealth, Aug 11 ALL CONSUMING on the new consumer and the Oct. 20 session on Rebuilding Trust and Remote Possibilities in remote care access.

The Platinum Sponsors of the 2021 VM Leadership Summit are EssilorLuxottica, Healthy Eyes Advantage-PECAA and VSP Global Premier Program. The Gold Sponsor is The Vision Council's Vision Health Alliance and the Silver Sponsors are Alcon and Ocuco.