A panel at the Global Contact Lens Forum at Vision Expo West presented findings from the inaugural CooperVision Best Practices EYEdea Lab. Designed to help eye care professionals (ECPs) improve patient experiences and remain competitive amidst disruptive consumer healthcare purchasing trends, the EYEdea Labcombined qualitative research on the floor of Optometry’s Meeting in June with follow-on quantitative consumer and ECP research, and two primary, data-backed insights emerged:
- The doctor-patient relationship remains essential to consumers, with technology advancements viewed as enhancing, but not replacing, the in-person experience.
- Consumers are wary of in-office experiences that place too much of a focus on ancillary products and amenities, creating opportunities for ECPs to more intently focus on transparent, efficient and personalized eye care.
“Navigating the rapid and significant changes in the eye care industry is a common topic of discussion among the ECPs with whom we partner,” Michele Andrews, OD, Senior Director of Professional and Academic Affairs, North America, CooperVision, said in a company news release. “Best Practices celebrates practices that continue to grow and succeed in this environment. As part of that commitment, we wanted to give honorees—the best of the best—an opportunity to help their peers and advance the profession, giving rise to the EYEdea Lab.”
Three Best Practices honorees joined Dr. Andrews on the panel: Carrie Alfieri, OD, of Pinnacle Eye Associates in McKinney, Texas; Roxanna Potter, OD, FAAO, of Personal Eyecare in Sylvania, Ohio; and Shauna Thornhill, OD, of Amarillo Vision Specialists in Amarillo, Texas. Dr. David Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at Harvard University, facilitated theEYEdea Lab, working with participants to better understand the untapped opportunity in the market and discover and solve high-impact challenges.
Insight: Technology Adoption Enhances—Not Replaces—the Doctor-Patient Relationship
In the EYEdea Lab, the Best Practices honorees wondered: Are patients placing a lower value on the in-office eye exam experience, looking instead for automated procedures? Through discussions on the show floor, they learned patients very much value the personal, in-office experience and seek help in making eye care decisions in collaboration with their ECPs. Furthermore, the honorees learned that patients choose to visit their practices for something different than what’s available online, making it important not to try to duplicate the online experience in the office.
“Our patients have a set of expectations about the online experience that are different than their expectations for an in-person exam,” said Dr. Alfieri. “They value the interpersonal relationship with their doctor and staff, the knowledge and input of that team, and they view technology as an enhancement to the in-person experience—not a replacement.”
Quantitative survey results* supported these findings, with 92% of ECPs believing that their patients perceive more value when there is more technology incorporated into the exam process. Still, 82% of ECPs consider online refraction a threat to their practices.
The industry concern over online refraction runs counter to consumer beliefs, as illustrated in a new CooperVision survey of U.S adults.** When asked about the accuracy of online eye tests compared to in-person eye exams, 66% of consumers believe online testing to be less accurate, and 20% are unsure, revealing an opportunity for ECPs to continually educate patients about the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and in-office exams. When asked which sources they most trust to recommend and explain the best options for their eye health and vision correction needs, the overwhelming majority (87%) of consumer respondents selected their eye doctor, far eclipsing all other sources, such as online medical sites and news reports.
“While some consumers are curious about new technology, the majority trust their ECPs to give them the best care and advice, and truly appreciate the value of their eye doctors’ expertise,” said Dr. Thornhill. “It is an important reminder that patients are looking for that interpersonal engagement, and we need to find the right way to incorporate technology into our practices.”
“To put this into practice, we recommend minimizing tedious, non-essential tasks—like intake paperwork or excessive movement between stations and exam rooms—to allow for more personal attention and time for discussion,” added Dr. Potter. “Consider assigning a specific staff member to escort each patient from the time they arrive to when they leave, giving them a very personal contact in addition to the doctor.”
Insight: Focus on Transparent, Efficient and Personalized Care
A second hypothesis formed in the EYEdea Lab was that ECPs need to offer an ever-growing suite of amenities, products and services to differentiate themselves. In the research from the show floor, the feedback was clear that patients want an overall better exam experience, but not an unrelated one. ECPs pointed to transparency as a top priority, being clear about what’s going to happen, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and why any recommendations or prescriptions are made.
Survey data provided additional perspective, which challenged that amenities contributed to a positive patient experience. When asked about the investments made to reception areas to create a more comfortable and unique patient experience, results were split—58% of ECPs reported investments in this area, while 42% said they had not made any expenditures along these lines.* Likewise, 79% of consumers said it was not important for their eye doctor’s office to have spa-like amenities (e.g., coffee service, massage chairs, relaxing atmosphere, etc.).
And while 60% of ECPs reported offering additional products for sale in their practices—including makeup products, skin care products, and vitamins—76% of consumers said that they wouldn’t purchase any of these products at their eye doctor’s office.
“The research showed that patients really value their ECPs and the exam experience over the amenities and ancillary product lines. And while ECPs were split about whether to offer these extras, it is important to consider how they tie back to the eye exam and ongoing care—because that is what they’re coming for,” said Dr. Thornhill.
“What does this look like in a practice setting? We recommend being as efficient as possible so patients aren’t left waiting, versus implementing spa-like amenities to make waiting more tolerable,” said Dr. Potter. “Employ smart-scheduling techniques and invest in systems and training to stay on task and on time. Make the patient feel like every minute at the office was used purposefully.”
At every turn, Best Practices honorees participating in the EYEdea Lab reported one underlying theme: Visiting an ECP’s office is not only about the services; it is about how practices develop trust and guide their patients’ decision-making.
“In the EYEdea Lab, our Best Practices honorees tested commonly held beliefs about what it takes to compete in today’s marketplace,” said Dr. Andrews. “Many ECPs don’t often get the chance to take a step back and evaluate what they are doing and why, and whether their actions and investments are effective. We hope that these insights inspire them to pause and consider how they operate, with an eye toward ongoing success. For our part, we are eager to continue to share stories of success from practitioners across the profession through Best Practices.”
CooperVision is currently seeking submissions for its 2019 Best Practices, which will mark the initiative’s fourth year. For more information about the EYEdea Lab, the initiative, or to apply, ECPs can visit www.EyeCareBestPractices.com.