Beyond Refraction: Eye Care Professionals Rebranding Themselves as Health & Wellness Experts

By Courtney Dryer, O.D. September 21, 2021

In 1904, optometry was first defined as “the science of non-medical refraction.” The profession of optometry has evolved significantly from our origin as practicing jewelers. Optometrists are privileged to have expanded scope of practice from laser surgery in Oklahoma to the performance of surgical procedures using local anesthetic in Wyoming.  

The advancement of our medical scope has allowed us to meet the needs of our patients beyond simple refraction. More than ever, eye care professionals are feeling the pressure from online retailers, shrinking reimbursements, larger competitors, and all that comes with running a small business. Many eye care professionals are leveraging the power of the internet and social media to brand themselves as a trusted health and wellness resource for our patients. Optometrists have moved beyond the phoropter by educating on nutrition, ergonomic/device solutions, nutraceuticals, branded products, and offering specialty services.   

 1.      Nutrition Advocacy

Award of Excellence for Nutrition Advocacy Montana Academy ...Patients often ask about the effect of their nutrition on their eyes. Doc, is it true carrots improve my eyesight? Optometrists play a primary care role in educating patients on their health and how proper nutrition will improve their diabetic, dry eye, and AMD outcomes. 75% of study respondents indicate they trust their doctor’s advice about nutrition. 25% of internet users have watched health videos online. Patients are looking for your expertise.

Optometrists are using social media, YouTube and/or their own websites to promote their expertise and communicate recipes and nutritional facts to patients. For example, Dr. Sandra Young of Visionary Kitchen has a branded website with recipes and hosts children’s cooking events. Dr. Martin Oguzie recommends nutrition tips for macular degeneration on his YouTube channel. If you have a passion for cooking or nutrition, marketing yourself as a nutritional optometrist can be a great way to grow and specialize your practice.

2.      Ergonomic/Device Solutions Recommendations

Computer Ergonomics - PDR ClinicsThe AOA reports 50-90% of computer users have digital eye strain complaints. The traditional role of an ECP is to determine refractive error but has expanded to include making recommendations on digital spectacle lens options and workspace ergonomics. Patients should be asked about their working distances, lighting, and workspace setup during the examination. Poor workstations or improper ergonomics may be behind symptoms such as back, neck, shoulder, and wrist pain. By discussing workspace specifics, you can improve the quality of life for patients and provide fundamental solutions for pain and headaches. These patients are an active referral source for your practice and will send many suffering co-workers to your door.

 3.      Nutraceuticals Discussions

Optometrists play an important role in the recommendation of nutraceuticals for eye health, specifically dry eye sufferers. 77%  of Americans take nutraceuticals. The nutraceutical industry is overseen by the FDA but is not regulated like prescription medications. For this reason, many patients are not taking the correct dosage or using a clean brand of nutraceuticals. Many nutraceutical companies make false claims and sometimes supplements may contain harmful metals. Researchers found more than half of herbal and dietary supplements contained ingredients differing from their labels. ODs can take an active approach to their patients’ health by recommending specific brands and dosages. When I discuss dry eye, I specifically mention Nordic Naturals. To ensure that patients know what to look for at the pharmacy or supermarket, I show them a picture of my recommendation from a google search. This eliminates any confusion about what they should be taking. I want them to understand that all fish oil pills are not created equal.

4.      Branded Product Promotion

76% of your patients trust content created by users over that of a brand. Optometrists have taken on a new role as healthcare social media influencers. They are brand advocates for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, eyewear, and even scrub clothing companies.  We Love Eyes is a line of eye care products that was developed by Dr. Tanya Gill in response to patients having buildup on their contact lenses. Dr. Mila Loussifova developed a clean makeup line when her dry eye patients asked for makeup recommendations. Many other optometrists have built communities of online followers with common interests in eyewear/sunglass trends or have developed their own frame lines. By promoting or developing branded products, an optometrist can advise consumers on the best products for protecting and promoting healthy eyes. 

5.      Specialty Services Offerings

Opticians Sri Lanka | Specialties of Vision Care Optical ...Every optometrist should offer one specialty service, depending upon their interests.  Sports vision, vision therapy, binocular vision dysfunction, low vision, myopia management, or specialty contact lenses can bring renewed passion to an optometrist who is weary from the day-to-day, which is better 1 or 2?

Each specialty allows you to meet the needs of patient groups beyond those looking for just a glasses prescription to buy online. Expertise in fitting specialty lens patients provides the opportunity to fit distressed patients who have never been able to see well with traditional contact lenses or spectacles, and their poor vision has affected their ability to attend school or hold a job.

Patients with a neurological history of concussions or TBI may not be helped in a traditional optometric practice. Low vision and binocular vision dysfunction specialty programs can reach a new patient-base, grateful for your efforts. You can look into the Neuro-Visual Medicine Institute if this specialty interests you. You can treat entirely new patients experiencing headaches, dizziness, headaches, gait instability, and other conditions, using microprism lenses.  Deb Feinberg, OD, Neuro-Visual Medicine Institute Co-Director, says that patients report 80% reductions in their Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD) symptoms upon completion of treatment. 

If you are looking at growing your practice, consider expanding your medical scope and marketing yourself as a health and wellness expert. This approach can help you attract new patients and spend more time educating patients on topics you are passionate about.

Courtney Dryer, O.D.

Dr. Courtney Dryer earned her doctorate from Southern College of Optometry, Memphis, Tennessee in 2011. She opened her own practice Autarchic Spec Shop in 2013 in Charlotte, NC. She has had the privilege of writing for numerous optometric publications and serving in various industry capacities. In 2015, Vision Monday named her a rising star and one of the most influential women in optometry. Her optometric passions include practice management, specialty contact lenses, and dry eye management.

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