Sports vision services afford patients 'good game'

All optometrists should consider tapping into the market of sports vision optimization. The opportunities and interest in this niche market are great. Add to this fact the relative ease of launching a sports vision component in your practice and you have a win-win situation for practices and patients.

Key Points

Don't let a fear of clichés deter you.

When it comes to sports and vision, you've probably heard them all: "He has a good eye," "He can see the whole field," "She has good court vision," and the ever-popular classic, shouted from coast to coast, "Keep your eye on the ball!"

Yet beyond the clichés lies a world of opportunity for optometrists. There are growing numbers of participants in virtually every sport on every level, and many are looking for a way to maximize their performance and gain an edge. And although these individuals may be willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a new golf club or thousands of dollars on a personal trainer, they probably never have considered what their OD could do for them.

Where does the OD fit in?

To capitalize on this largely untapped opportunity, Dr. Erickson said it's important to identify the sports aspect of your patients' needs and have your practice positioned to provide the services and products that meet those needs.

"I'm a consultant for Nike, and I can tell you that Nike has an amazing number of new products coming out designed for athletes-and that's just one company among many," he said. "Keep up with what's being offered and you'll recognize the opportunities."

Services an OD can provide to athletically minded patients range from basic eye care, encompassing the correction of refractive error and the diagnosis and treatment of injury, to the use of high-tech therapy tools to enhance performance, said Stephen Beckerman, OD, associate professor of optometry, Illinois College of Optometry, Chicago.

"There's a basic level of sports vision care where you're simply making sure that a patient's visual system isn't interfering with his or her performance," Dr. Beckerman said. "At this level you can make sure a patient's eyes are healthy and well coordinated, protect them from ultraviolet radiation as necessary, and fit them with protective eyewear to prevent injuries."

However, there are a number of more advanced levels of care you can provide, added Dr. Beckerman, who also is in private practice at Glenview Vision Care, Glenview, IL, and is a former AOA Sports Vision Optometrist of the Year. It is at these advanced levels where the opportunities are the greatest. "There are things optometrists can do to actually help athletes optimize their performance, and there aren't many practitioners who are working at that level," he said.

That situation may change with growing patient awareness, however. Tiger Woods' famous LASIK surgery may have patients asking questions about enhancing their performance by improving their eyesight, and it's likely that the majority of those patients would start with their optometrist before considering LASIK or any other type of invasive procedure.

What will you be able to do for them? Plenty, said Larry Lampert, OD, a private practitioner at Total Family Eye Care, Boca Raton, FL, and the author of The Pro's Edge: Vision Training for Golf.

"If you improve your vision, you improve your game," said Dr. Lampert, who has worked with golfers on the PGA and LPGA tours, professional tennis players, as well as members the Major League Baseball's New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs and the National Football League's Miami Dolphins. "A sports vision exam can be very enlightening for many people, because they think everything is 20/20: if you're 20 feet away from a chart and can see a 20-size letter, everything's fine. But when it comes to sports, there's a lot more to it than that."