Optometry is a tech-driven industry. After all, corrective lenses are technology. So it’s baffling that some clinics are still buried under the weight of paper records. The cost of this hesitation? A whopping average of $26,000 more per physician annually when compared to their counterparts using electronic health records (EHR), as reported by a 2022 SK&A study. Four years prior, 87% of optometry practices had already shared a simple truth with the American Optometric Association: implementing electronic health records (EHR) boosted their practice efficiency and productivity. So why would clinics in an industry that configures and sells technology resist it?
Douglas Adams knows exactly why: “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
When EHRs came out, ODs over 35 may have felt like Adams said—they’re against the natural order of things. But in eye care, staying tech-savvy isn’t optional; it’s imperative. The number of insured patients is going up while the number of ODs is declining. The only way to address the increased demand is to become more operationally efficient. Tech is arguably the most significant factor in that equation.
The next tech wave is already moving beyond EHRs. A recent report from Ophthalmology Times highlighted how telemedicine is once again setting the efficiency bar higher. By widening their reach, practices have seen patient volume surge by up to 30%. And the bonus? And patients are loving the experience. Citing a 2021 AMD Global Telemedicine Study, 95% of patients were satisfied with their teleoptometry experiences.
As if telemedicine wasn’t disruptive enough, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also stepping into the limelight. MarketWatch research suggests that optometry practices using AI for everyday administrative tasks have clocked in savings of up to 20% in labor costs.
The impact of tech on efficiency is unignorable. Whether you’re looking to catch up to the state of the art or looking to innovate to capture the increasing demand, we’ve got the breakdown on how technology is boosting operational efficiency in optometry. There are some foundational technologies that every clinic should be using. There’s a new wave that clinics are adopting now. And, for the innovative ODs, some pretty exciting developments are coming in the not-too-distant future.
Foundational Technologies for Today’s Clinics
Electronic Health Records (EHR): The backbone of modern clinics
The manual management of patient records is not just about the tangible costs associated with paper, storage, and manual filing. It’s also about the hours clinicians spend maintaining, retrieving, and cross-referencing these paper files. EHRs eliminate much of this burden. Remember the $26K more that doctors with paper records spend annually? Part of that comes from the physical storage costs, the manual labor of filing and retrieving, and the potential errors or omissions that paper systems are susceptible to.
With EHRs, not only is there a reduction in these tangible and intangible costs, but there are also new capabilities. Integration with other medical databases for holistic patient views, instantaneous data retrieval, and real-time updates make EHRs more than just a digital version of paper records; they’re a powerful tool for improving care quality and clinic efficiency.
Practice Management Software: Beyond the Appointment Book and Billing Ledger.
Once, private practice optometrists juggled bulky appointment books, hand-written billing ledgers, and often operated on memory or manual notes for many routine tasks. Practice Management Software replaces these time-consuming, error-prone practices. It automates scheduling, billing, and inventory management, thus eliminating the manual errors and inefficiencies of the past. No more double-booked slots, missed billings, or stock-outs on essential items.
Online Scheduling and Reminders: From Phone Calls to Clicks.
Think of the hours receptionists spent making and receiving phone calls for appointments. Now, contrast that with the ease of online scheduling, where patients pick suitable slots. Automated reminders have replaced manual calls, significantly reducing no-show rates. It’s not just about saving time; it’s about transforming the patient experience, giving them autonomy, and ensuring their commitment.
The New Wave: Emerging Tech Solutions
Teleoptometry: In the past, reaching patients beyond a practice’s immediate vicinity was near-impossible unless they traveled long distances. Additionally, ensuring uniformity of care or consultation standards was challenging for practices with multiple locations. Teleoptometry, under the broader umbrella of telemedicine, is changing what is possible.
The benefits for multi-location practices are apparent. Centralized consultation hubs can manage patient interactions across numerous satellite clinics, ensuring a standard of care and even allowing specialists to cater to a wider geographical area. This model expands patient engagement and allows the eye care practice to serve a diverse population.
Tools like secure video conferencing and remote diagnostic tools empower eye doctors to conduct consultations from anywhere. While it doesn’t replace in-person checkups, for follow-up consultations and minor issues, teleoptometry is proving invaluable.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Data management and analysis have traditionally been a manual, time-consuming process, often leading to overlooked insights. Today, the wave of artificial intelligence is pushing boundaries. With AI-driven data analytics, the possibility of predictive care emerges, potentially foreseeing and preventing eye issues before they become serious.
Furthermore, on the administrative front, efficiency gets a significant boost. AI-driven solutions help in staffing decisions, scheduling, and even mundane task automation. What once took hours of manual labor can now be done in minutes, ensuring clinics run at the peak of technological advancement.
Looking Ahead: Future-Focused Innovations
3D Printing in Eyewear: Eyewear, especially custom eyewear, required weeks of waiting as specific designs or prescriptions were sent out to specialized manufacturers. 3D printing could change all of this. Imagine a world where, after your eye checkup, your personalized glasses are printed right there in the clinic, aligned perfectly to your vision. Beyond the lens, frames tailored to individual face structures, ensuring optimal comfort and aesthetics, become possible.
Vision therapy, too, is bound to benefit, with tools and aids custom-printed for individual patients. As for contact lenses, innovations might allow for lenses tailored to unique eye shapes, providing unparalleled comfort.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the horizon for other innovations like augmented reality (AR) integrated lenses or smart contact lenses with built-in sensors. These tools, while futuristic, could redefine eye care and treatment.
Key Considerations in Adopting Tech Solutions
As clinics adopt technology, the more informed they are, the better decisions they will make. Understanding ROI and cost implications is core to good judgment. It’s not just about adopting the latest tech but ensuring it adds measurable value to the practice and the patients.
Training staff, including optometrists and ophthalmologists, is equally crucial. After all, a state-of-the-art tool is only as good as its user. Comprehensive training ensures that the clinic can truly harness the potential of these advancements.
Lastly, while technology can transform many aspects of a practice, it bears stating the obvious: human touch in patient care remains irreplaceable. It’s essential to find a balance, ensuring patients feel cared for and not just processed through a machine.
In eye and vision care, technology is inextricably linked with efficiency and enhanced patient experience. For the modern eye care practice, staying ahead of the curve isn’t just about being competitive; it’s about offering the best possible care in the information age. Eye health will inevitably benefit from these advancements, but it’s up to the practices to ensure they ride the wave rather than get swept away.