Behind the data in eye care: Insights from The Vision Council's Ashely Mills

October 23, 2020
Jennifer Lyerly, OD

Dr. Lyerly is a 2011 graduate of Southern College of Optometry. She founded Eyedolatry in 2011, a media platform dedicated to patient-friendly and doctor-approved ocular health advice and industry news. She has successfully coordinated on media campaigns

The Year of Vision has not been running exactly to plan for anyone in eye care, but for Ashley Mills, the CEO of The Vision Council, it has meant a complete restructuring of eyecare’s major spring and fall Vision Expo events and the need for new innovations and outreach to help ODs navigate not just COVID-19, but topics ranging from diversity in eyecare to consumer trends in optical. The Vision Council is an organization that brings the entire eyecare industry together: optometrists, opticians, frame designers, and industry members all connecting to shape the pulse of the industry.

“We think that vision matters,” Mills explains about the role of The Vision Council. “We think it needs to be elevated. We think it impacts how people live their lives, and we want to the be the leader in making sure that people get the vision correction that they need to live their best lives. Vision is empowerment.”

At its foundation is market research, and on this video podcast, we discuss some of the pivotal research and advocacy The Vision Council is conducting behind the scenes to serve and grow the industry.

Diversity in leadership

In 2019, The Vision Council conducted the first ever study of diversity in leadership for the optical industry.1 This was a survey of eyecare industry workers, and it found that compared to the average U.S. workforce, the eyecare industry is 11 years older, has 6 percent fewer females, 6 percent less people of color, 12 percent less Hispanic, and 1 percent less people who identify as LGBTQ+. When it comes to senior leadership positions in the eyecare industry (owner, partner, C-level, president, director, executive vice president, senior vice president), compared to the average U.S. management level the eyecare industry is whiter and more male. Vision has 11 percent fewer women and 5 percent less people of color in senior management positions.

This lack of diversity and representation often leaves eyecare industry professionals feeling like there is little to no room for them to grow to the top of their profession. When asked about their outlook for personal advancement, 27 percent of women (vs 17 percent of men) and 35 percent of people of color (vs 20 percent of whites) are more likely to have a negative outlook on advancement and opportunities in vision.

“I don’t know that we were shocked, but the point of the survey was to benchmark,” Mills says about the findings of the 2019 survey. “Until we had a benchmark, we couldn’t start setting goals and taking action. I am pleased to report that now that we know how we measure up against other industries, we can start establishing actionable goals for the industry.”

Related: ODs’ guide to healthcare real estate

New diversity task force

The study results helped launch the creation of the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force being led by industry veteran Tarrence Lackran. The change is coming, with visible differences being made to representation among conference speakers and conference content.

“This is happening, and we are going to go there,” Mills says. “You will either come with us and be a part of the change, or you will be left woefully behind. This is moving quickly, and it’s been so beautiful to see the support throughout the industry for this initiative. The worst thing we can do is to just talk about it. The best thing we can do is to establish some initiatives and chart progress, and that’s where we are now.”

Looking to the future

Now that opticals and private practices around the country are several months out from reopening, looking at consumer trends in eye care is essential tp understanding the industry’s long-term recovery and any lasting impact that COVID-19 could have on patient behaviors.

The most recent VisionWatch Consumer Market Report shows that the number of adults needing vision correction in 2020 has increased by 0.7 percent (or 1.4 million Americans) over this time last year. However, The Vision Council’s Rx Eyewear Future Purchase Intent Index dropped to 99.7, which is its lowest in a decade. To give these numbers context, Mills explains that the 10-year average for Rx Eyewear Future Purchase Intent is 104.5, and every point that it drops represents 1.6 million fewer pairs of eyewear.

Despite the concerns this data raises, Mills reassures eyecare providers that 2020 is not a lost cause.

“The trends overall are very positive compared to where we were in April,” she says. “About 41 percent of consumers say they are going to get the vision care they need and purchase optical products, no matter how they need to do it. Our low point was in June where 66 percent of eyecare providers were reporting a significant drop in their business, but in August that number was down to only 38 percent This is not over by any stretch, but compared to where we were in April, May, and June, we are on a much better path.”

Says Darryl Glover, OD, near the end of the episode: “When there is tragedy, there is always opportunity.”

And while 2020 hasn’t been the Year of Vision we had originally planned, it most certainly has been one where the vision industry has persevered. One of the things many ODs are looking forward to for 2021 is the possibility of in-person conferences returning. Plans for live and in-person Vision Expo conferences next year are in motion, with dates for Vision Expo East in New York City currently set for May 25-28, 2021.

Related: The 13% Promise: Increasing racial diversity in optometry

References

1. The Vision Council. Diversity & Inclusion Key Findings. Available at: https://thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/assets/images/TVC_2020_DandI_one-pager.pdf. Accessed 10/22/20.

2. The Vision Council. Quarterly and Annual Market Reports. Available at: https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/members/quarterly-and-annual-market-reports. Accessed 10/22/20.