Jeffrey Sonsino, OD, FAAO, is a diplomate in the Cornea, Contact Lens, and Refractive Therapies Section of the American Academy of Optometry and a member of the Cornea and Contact Lens Council of the American Optometric Association. He is a consultant for
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed here are those of Dr. Sonsino and do not reflect the opinion of the Healthcare Alliance for Patient Safety or the American Optometric Association. The viewpoints also do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.
Recently, online refraction service Opternative rebranded under its new name Visibly;1 however, it offers the same online refraction to consumers. The company has raised concerns for optometry since its inception.
The current CEO of Opternative was brought in after one of the cofounders of Opternative, Aaron Dallek, was removed from the company. Although the circumstances of his removal were not made public, Business Insider magazine lists these possible reasons that a founder is removed from his company: He stopped being useful, he got too greedy, he was not the right fit, the board made bad decisions.2 You get the point. Founders are removed because the company needs to change.
Opternative’s current CEO is Brent Rasmussen, previously affiliated with a staffing company and CareerBuilder. So, a human resources (HR) expert, with no healthcare experience, was brought in to lead a company that claims to provide healthcare services to consumers and is making public statements about healthcare delivery.
Mr. Rasmussen says, “I thought it was important that we rebrand the company with a name that better represents the partnership that we are actually building with individual eyecare professionals and with eyecare professionals who own four or five practices.”3
Making statements like this is a tactic called priming. Priming introduces people to an idea in order to influence how they later feel about it.4
The CEO knows that this quote might make its way in front of the public via the media. It would appear that when consumers hear this statement, they may think Visbly must be a legitimate company because it is partnering with doctors. Opternative was in the news in 2018 for “falsely implying endorsement” by using a doctor locator on its website without the consent of those doctors.5
Steven Lee, OD, cofounder and chief technology officer of Visibly, says “the old company name ‘positioned the brand as an existential threat’ to optometrists and other ECPs.”3
Again, I see this statement is an attempt to legitimize Opternative’s status in the industry as a disruptor of the traditional business model of eye care by overstating its importance or relevance in the market.
Past chair of the American Optometric Assocation Contact Lens and Cornea Section Art Epstein, OD, FAAO, says about this statement, “Regardless of what it’s called, Opternative, now Visibly, does not represent an existential threat. It represents a very real public health threat by diverting patients from effective eye care that for many can be sight- or even lifesaving.”
Health care as business
Venture capitalists and private equity representatives love the idea of entering an established industry, creating an online alternative, and disrupting the business out of existence. Opternative was recently recapitalized with a fresh $9M from Pritzker Group Venture Capital and Trust Ventures.6 The job of a venture capitalist is only to make money, not to ensure that patients receive proper care and messaging.
Health care is more than simply business. It is people’s well being and their lives. With health care, regulatory requirements have been put into place to protect patients from harm. This is why more than a year ago, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-not optometry-issued a cease and desist to Opternative, ordering the company to stop marketing its technology to consumers.7
The company continues to market its technology to consumers via its website. So, it appears that the existential threat to Opternative is Opternative. If the FDA told me to stop operating, I’d want to change my name to escape that past as well.
ValuJet orchestrated a similar name change to AirTran in the 1990s to escape its past after a plane crashed in the Florida Everglades due to illegally stored hazardous materials.8 The public didn’t forget the crash, and AirTran was purchased in 2011 by Southwest airlines and ceased flying in 2014.9
Mr. Rasmussen says, “Our company believes that every human on earth deserves affordable access to eye care, wherever they are, all of the time.”
In my opinion, he does not understand that his company does not provide eye care. Visibly provides one component of an eye exam, the refraction, that, if separated, would prevent a comprehensive eye exam from being conducted.10
National standards from both the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology specify that refraction is only one part of a multitude of measurements conducted during a full eye exam.10,11
Patients who seek care are not aware that blinding eye diseases, like glaucoma, can be detected by testing for other factors alongside a refraction as part of a comprehensive eye exam.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists are united in upholding the standard of protecting patients with comprehensive examinations. Companies like Visibly that encourage patients to skip an ocular health exam in favor of only a refraction may put patients at risk in an attempt to boost company bottom lines.
Mr. Rasmussen says that the service Visibly provides is telemedicine. Online technologies are considered telemedicine only if the standard of care is the same online as it is in person.12
Venture capitalists are business people, not healthcare providers, and do not understand this concept. The tragedy is that our unsuspecting patients are duped into these schemes and suffer as a result.
1. PR Newswire. Opternative Announces Company Name Change To Better Reflect Eye Care Industry Partnerships. Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/opternative-announces-company-name-change-to-better-reflect-eye-care-industry-partnerships-300762964.html. Accessed 1/15/19.
2. Kim E. The 9 biggest reasons people get fired by companies they founded. Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-founders-get-fired-by-their-own-companies-2016-7. Accessed 1/16/19.
3. Vision Monday. Opternative Changes Name to ‘Visibly’ to Better Reflect a Move Toward Partnerships. Available at: http://www.visionmonday.com/latest-news/article/opternative-changes-name-to-visibly-to-better-reflect-a-move-toward-partnerships/. Accessed 1/16/19.
4. Lewis T. 9 sneaky psychology tricks companies use to get you to buy stuff. Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/9-sneaky-psychology-tricks-companies-use-to-get-you-to-buy-stuff-2016-2. Accessed 1/30/19.
5. American Optometric Association. AOA: Opternative’s doc locator appears to falsely imply endorsement. Available at: https://www.aoa.org/news/advocacy/aoa-opternatives-doc-locator-appears-to-falsely-imply-endorsement. Accessed 1/25/19.
6. Vision Monday. Opternative Secures $9 Million in Series A3 Round of Funding. Available at: http://www.visionmonday.com/latest-news/article/opternative-secures-9-million-in-series-a3-round-of-funding/. Accessed 1/25/19.
7. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Opternative Inc 10/30/17. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/iceci/enforcementactions/warningletters/2017/ucm600029.htm. Accessed 1/25/19.
8. ValuJet Airlines. Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ValuJet_Airlines. Accessed 1/25/19.
9. UPI Archives. ValuJet name retired as airline changes images. Available at: https://www.upi.com/Archives/1997/09/24/ValuJet-name-retired-as-airline-changes-images/6204875073600/. Accessed 1/25/19.
10. American Optometric Association. Comprehensive Eye and Vision Examination. Available at: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/comprehensive-eye-and-vision-examination. Accessed 1/29/19.
11. Turbert D. Eye Exam and Vision Testing Basics. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/eye-exams-101. Accessed 1/29/19.
12. Krupinski EA, Bernard J. Standards and Guidelines in Telemedicine and Telehealth. Healthcare (Basel). 2014 Mar; 2(1):74-93.