Article Date: 6/1/2013

Sports Vision: Keep Your Eye on the Ball
sports

Develop a Sports Vision Niche

How to attract athletes to your practice and fulfill their visual needs.

GRAHAM B. ERICKSON, O.D., F.A.A.O., F.C.O.V.D., FOREST GROVE, ORE.

The pursuit of sport and recreational activities is a multi-billion dollar industry that has seen tremendous growth the past 30 years. In fact, 217 million active Americans ages six and older take part in at least one sport, or activity, according to Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s 2012 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report.

This number should provide enough incentive for you to consider the sports demands of every patient you see and provide solutions for those patients who need them.

Here, I discuss how you can develop a sports niche optometric practice:

1. Choose the services you will offer.

Identifying what services are offered is critical to the delivery of specialized services.

Sports vision practitioners usually are involved with one or more of the following professional activities:

Prevention and management of sports eye injuries.

Assessment and remediation of functional vision inefficiencies that may negatively impact competitive consistency.

Specialized contact lens services with emphasis on environmental factors in sports, position of gaze factors, emergency care and attainment of maximum visual acuity.

Performance-based ophthalmic eyewear services that address visual and environmental demands.

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PHOTO COURTESY OF KEITH SMITHSON, O.D.

Develop your brand by decorating your practice with photos and signed memorabilia.

Assessment of specific sports-related visual abilities.

Enhancement training of specific visual abilities that are considered essential for competitive consistency for a specific sport activity.

Consultation with athletes, coaches, trainers and teams regarding visual factors and strategies related to consistent peak athletic performance.

Many practices start by emphasizing existing strengths in the practice, such as specialized contact lenses or co-management of refractive surgery. From this position, typically, there is an expansion of ophthalmic eyewear products and services.

Providing expanded services likely requires additional staff, which can be acquired as this aspect of the practice develops.

Another important part of developing this practice niche is to have the instrumentation available to deliver the services.

Some aspects of visual performance can be assessed with instrumentation common to most optometric practices, but there is also specialized instrumentation that can be used to assess specific aspects of visual performance. I recommend a visual acuity chart system that allows measurement to at least 20/10, as well as the ability to measure contrast sensitivity threshold. These measurements provide the opportunity to determine refractive compensation that results in the best visual performance.

Additional instrumentation can be purchased to measure and train stereopsis at far, accommodative and vergence facility, dynamic visual acuity, speed and span of perception, central visual-motor response speed, peripheral visual–motor response speed and coincidence-anticipation. (See the online version of this article at optometricmanagement.com for more on instrumentation for visual performance assessments.)

2. Develop your brand.

Before you begin to attract athletes to your practice, it is crucial that you prepare your practice to deliver the services promised. If sports vision is going to be an identity of your practice, then you should develop that brand.

Here are some elements of your practice that should reflect to patients that your practice takes care of the visual needs of athletes:

Practice name and logo. Practice names, such as Xtreme-sight, communicate the niche this practice addresses, and accompanying logos and website graphics attract athletes (see www.xtremesight.com).

Staff appearance. Sport shirts with the practice logo convey the theme of the practice to all patients.

Office design and décor. Decorate the practice similar to a sports store by including photos of teams and athletes with whom the practice has worked (with appropriate approval, of course).

Sports-related optical products. Have a selection that is unrivaled in your area, including protective eyewear or sports sunwear that is geared toward popular sports in your locale, and display them prominently (for example, special eyewear and filter designs for hunters and shooters).

Patient education materials. Use displays and written materials, such as sports vision service brochures, in the reception area to demonstrate the value of the products and services you provide. For example, a Howard-Dolman apparatus can be a fun demonstration of individual stereopsis that can be supplemented with a short written message regarding the role of depth perception in sports.

When the practice branding is evident, there will be interest in these services from the practice’s existing patients. These patients provide a good opportunity to help the practice develop and improve the services provided. Each patient interaction is invaluable for learning what needs to be modified and improved. In this way, the practice team is strengthened.

3. Educate patients.

The review of the patient’s history is a valuable opportunity for you to connect the patient with the services provided by the practice. For example, if a patient who plays soccer has suffered from dry eye, this is an excellent chance to correlate those symptoms with performance. He/she may not know what options are available to improve his/her vision during competition.

Making that connection, and providing options to solve the problem, reinforces the niche of the practice. By explaining that ocular surface disease can compromise visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, as well as create contact lens discomfort, you reinforce the importance of your services in this aspect of their lives. Providing effective therapeutic interventions for dry eye conditions distinguishes your practice in the sports community.

4. Market your services.

After building the sports vision services and strengthening your team, your practice is well-positioned to increase external marketing activities. Direct mail, newspaper inserts and print and media advertising are common forms of external advertising. In addition, a presence at community sports events, including sign/billboard advertising, may be a more direct method to address a target audience.

Keep in mind: If external marketing is conducted before the practice is ready to deliver high-quality services, the potential for negative public perception can be extremely detrimental.

A common goal for sports vision practices is to connect with the marquee sports programs in the area. These programs can include competitive high school teams, club sports teams, collegiate teams and professional sports teams. Recognition as the eyecare provider to elite athletes and teams leads to priceless validity for your services. Furthermore, the ability to use this connection in external advertising is invaluable.

Connecting directly with the sports community can potentially be beneficial in many ways. One such connection is with certified athletic trainers (ATCs) who are responsible for the health of their athletes. Optometrists can be a valuable resource to ATCs for learning ocular trauma triage skills and developing improved contact lens insertion and removal abilities. Also, strength and conditioning coaches and sports trainers are continuously exploring methods to improve the training they deliver.

When you collaborate with these sports professionals, your services can become instrumental in the preparation that motivates athletes to pursue maximum performance during competition. The word-of-mouth advertising generated gradually increases the volume of patients seeking sports vision services.

Take the ball, and run with it.

Optometrists are uniquely suited to provide specialized services to meet the needs of athletes. Most of the patients we examine routinely are active in some sports and recreational pursuits. It is not just the elite athletes who reap advantages in performance from our services — patients from all walks of life can benefit from improvement in visual function in many aspects of daily life.

Once your reputation is established as a practice that fulfills the visual needs of athletes, a wealth of new athletic patients with visioncare needs will seek your services. OM

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Dr. Erickson has served as past-chair of the American Optometrie Association Sports Vision Section and the Binocular Vision, Perception and Pediatric Optometry Section of the American Academy of Optometry. He lectures both nationally and internationally on the topics of sports vision, pediatrics and binocular vision. Send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.



Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: June 2013, page(s): 36 37 38