While the eyecare industry is on solid ground, there is always room for improvement. Improvement comes in the form of change, which was the theme during the State of the Eyecare Industry address at Vision Expo West 2015. But the idea of change isn't always embraced by everyone.
Las Vegas-While the eyecare industry is on solid ground, there is always room for improvement. Improvement comes in the form of change, which was the theme during the State of the Eyecare Industry address at Vision Expo West 2015. But the idea of change isn't always embraced by everyone.
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Of primary concern is the industry's tendency to play it safe, according to Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, senior vice president of Customer Development at Essilor. This tendency, while seemingly meant to help preserve the status quo, can actually be the more dangerous route.
"What is more dangerous, crossing in a crosswalk or jaywalking?" he asks. Contrary to belief, more pedestrians are killed while in a crosswalk.
"You're actually more keenly aware of what's around you [when jaywalking]. You are taking more risk, but you're doing it in a calculated way-you're looking around, you're observant of things around you,” says Dr. Purcell. “The metaphor extends out to the eyecare industry. As an industry, we need to jaywalk a little more. It's probably safer in the longrun, probably better for us in the long run as an industry, but it's harder. It's easier to keep the status quo.”
Next: Integrating artificial intelligence
What does this mean? For one, it requires that the industry embrace technology and come up with innovative ways of including it in everyday practices. One of the more interesting predictions is in how advanced technology will affect the eyecare industry in the coming years-in particular artificial intelligence (AI).
Dr. Purcell believes we're just getting ready to see an exponential change, with AI changing how eyecare professionals not only access information, but how they interpret it also. One company, AiCure, is already changing how prescription medication is administered via a patient's phone. The program calls the patient, uses facial recognition via the mobile phone's camera to identify the patient, and then monitors the patient taking his or her medication.
But fears that AI will replace the need for doctors is premature.
"Nobody expects AI to take over for you-you're not going away, and the computer is not going to take over what you do," Purcell says. "But as a resource to you, to make sure you have every bit of information to make the best decisions you possibly can for your patients, that’s a big opportunity."
Next: Fears over e-commerce
Other fears that may have been premature are those concerning e-commerce.
E-commerce has been a sticking point for many eyecare professionals who are worried about the steady increase of consumers who have changed their habits to shopping online. However, the data shows that consumers are actually looking for hybrid solutions that include both online and brick and mortar experiences.
Patients still trust doctors, says Holly Rush, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America, but they're feeling overwhelmed when at the dispensary. As a result, while more than 70 percent of eye exams are performed through eyecare professionals, only 50 percent of retail transactions are conducted out of doctors' offices, equating to billions of dollars in lost revenue.
"Behind these forces of change is one fundamental shift, and that is a consumer shift," Rush says. "A lot of what is happening here is caused from an unmet need being filled, and that creates a disruption and change in the environment in which were competing. For us, it really comes back to what the consumer is looking for in our industry."
The good news is that online shopping is no longer seen as a replacement for physical locations but rather an addition to the experience.
"Consumers still want a physical retail environment to shop in," Rush says. "They might scan the online space, but 90 percent of consumers will visit a physical store before they make a purchase. So, that place that you have is really important to creating that need and desire."
With statistics like those, it's no wonder many former online-only companies are now looking to expand into the brick-and-mortar space, because consumers are demanding face-to-face time for things like adjustments and advice.
Ultimately, change is the theme of the future, and embracing it is key for growth and prosperity.
"As an industry, we need to jaywalk more," says Dr. Purcell.