CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

By Judith Lee

You’d never call it a canyon or even a chasm, but more of a rift that’s keeping one side from the other.

Optical labs are on one side of the divide, investing in digital surfacing equipment, technology and processes, developing free-form lens products, competing for business—a near free-for-all of new and better lenses and lens manufacturing.

On the other side, Eye Care Professionals (ECPs) and their patients, interested, no doubt, and sampling the goodies—but some are still a little unsure about joining the party.  On the positive side, ECPs say they believe digital free-form lenses are better products and represent more and more of the lenses they order.

“I’m now up to 100 percent digital for progressive lenses,” said Albert Pang, OD of Plano, Texas. “I believe that digital lenses make it easier for patients to adapt to progressives, they also provide better overall performance.”

Just as labs are differentiating themselves with digital free-form products, ECPs are now showing patients they can provide a better pair of eyeglasses.

“We have found that by providing digitally surfaced lenses, our patients talk to their friends, stating how much better they can see through their lenses,” noted Amy Endo, master optician and practice administrator for Edwin Y. Endo, OD and Associates where digital lens sales have increased nearly threefold from about two years ago.

So what’s causing the digital divide? It may just be a matter of customer education.

“As a working optician, I would say we have not been educated enough about these products. Some lens makers have done more than others, but there is still a need for more practical information,” said John Seeger, optician and optician educator who operates Opticianworks.com.

Overall, here’s what your ECP customers want you to know about how free-form/digital is affecting their business, and what you can do about it.

THUMBS UP FROM PATIENTS

Patients are very happy with digitally surfaced lenses, and that is the bottom line. Just like you, ECPs want to have happy customers who will help grow their business, and happy patients are the most important part
of that “secret sauce.”

WHAT DO PATIENTS LIKE?

  1.     They can see better through these lenses.

  2.     Emerging and early presbyopes make the transition to progressives more easily.

  3.     The lenses are individualized for them.

“We explain that digital lenses can be designed and produced based on a person’s viewing habits and visual requirements, and lenses can be cut to fit precisely into the frame, and finally the finished eyewear can be fit exactly on the wearer’s face. Patients like this. Of course, the product has to deliver,” said Endo

FIVE AREAS THAT NEED IMPROVEMENT

1.  It Takes Some Work To Explain It

Today’s consumer expects to hear about “what’s new” so ECPs find their patients are open to the idea of a lens that is new and better. The ECPs who feel best equipped to explain digital surfacing are having the most success with the lenses.

“Our lab continues to help us stay up to speed with digital surfacing and they assist and educate our team to move our patients into the latest and greatest products available to them,” said Carolee Boyd, OD, owner of Drs. Kline & Boyd Optometrists, Glens Falls, NY.

Even in practices that are succeeding with digital lenses, there is a need for ongoing staff training. Labs that work harder at providing that training will have an edge with ECPs.

“We have not been educated enough about the free-form process used to create these lenses. Part of the problem is the multitude of product lines the optical lab presents to the account, it is very confusing and not clear between the different level of products,” said Dr. Pang.

2. They Could Use More Help

ECPs want lab reps to provide more in-office training
of optical staff.

“Come in tell me about new lens designs. Tell me why I need to choose one design over another. Don't give me jargon and a sales pitch. Tell me real-world experience with actual patients,” said Seeger.

They also think manufacturers or labs should launch consumer education campaigns, a la Transitions.

“Consumers listen to the media. We need commercials or media campaigns that explain digital lens products and why they work better,” noted Endo, who added that this kind of education will counter the “sticker shock” some patients have toward premium lenses.

3. House VS. Name Brands

Most of the ECPs we spoke with are sticking with name brand digital lenses, just to be on the “safe side.”

“We always use recognized brands due to better warranty and a better assurance of the product quality,” said Dr. Pang.

Atlanta-area optician Robert Sobotor noted that his concern isn’t so much the quality of house brand digital lenses, but the AR coatings that often come as a package: “We call it ‘almost AR’.”

Yet another optician (who asked us to withhold his name) said he has found a house brand digital progressive with high-quality AR coating: Eagle progressive from FEA Industries.

“We’ve used quite a few of these lenses, and they perform very well. We save money on them, as compared to name brands, and the patients are just as happy. Here’s what’s important: find out what kind of investment the lab has made into digital surfacing and AR coating. If the lab is using state-of-the-art equipment and processes, you can put patients in a high-quality progressive for less money. You can either pass the savings on to the consumer and have a competitive advantage, or pocket the difference and improve your bottom line,” said the Philadelphia-area ECP.

4. Single Vision Not Going So Well

In general, ECPs say that digital surfacing is not going so well with single vision lenses. They report that the eyewear comes back from the lab looking great and made to the correct Rx, but the patients aren’t happy.

“There seems to be some kind of prism effect, which comes across to the wearer like a ‘fish bowl effect.’ They just don’t like it,” Seeger said.

He wishes that labs would explain to ECPs why single vision lenses often do not work out, and provide some practical help: “A fitting guide might be the answer—monocular pd, fitting height, anything else that needs to be done.”

 5. Great For Differentiation

Just as many patients are happy with digital progressives, so too are ECPs who believe the optical industry has given them a vehicle to differentiate their practices from the average.

“Recommending free-form digital requires better optician training, and also require more time in the transaction, as a result, patients see the value of this better product. The run-of-the-mill optical either doesn’t have the time or the knowledge to present to them; this is going to differentiate us as a professional selling great product with their best interest in mind,” said Dr. Pang.

Even as they acknowledge the digital divide is shrinking, Dr. Pang and other ECPs urge labs to “stay in the game” with more and better education for optical dispensers: “Just make the products simple to differentiate and don’t present 10 different kinds of digital lens designs to confuse us.”


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Labtalk-November/December 2017