Article Date: 1/1/2001

E-Commerce Exchanges
What are your reasons for not doing business electronically? Here's a look at why you shouldn't hesitate to join the e-commerce revolution.


A lot of people are talking about electronic commerce (e-commerce) for the optometric profession. But if only a quarter or less of all O.D.s routinely order online, according to an E-Dr. source, that means that many of us are contemplating whether to get involved.

What's keeping some of us from braving the e-commerce waters? I'll discuss some of the common excuses I've heard as well as reasons not to listen to them.

B2B basics

Traditional models of commerce were either written or telephone orders between buyer and seller. The modern model of business-to-business (B2B) commerce uses the World Wide Web and the Internet to communicate between buyer and seller -- quite a step up from the traditional models. B2B e-commerce for the optometrist is the "buy" side of the buy-sell-equation. On the "sell" side of the B2B model are the manufacturers and distributors.

E-commerce sites since 1996 provided optometrists with claims processing abilities and benefit eligibility. But many doctors complained of poor usability and performance. In addition, there didn't seem to be any time savings -- transactions took almost 20 minutes to complete.

Fortunately, continual improvements in Web site function and performance have steadily addressed many of our concerns. Reimbursement payments are timely, and eligibility queries can now occur during off-hours. Still, e-commerce seems problematic for routine ordering of contact lenses, prescription jobs and frames. At this time, a phone order takes less than 5 minutes, while a Web-based order will take up to 12 minutes. However, companies are working to eliminate these issues.

What's in it for us?

Many of us who are considering using e-commerce have difficulty quantifying its value. And, as with anything requiring our effort and resources, we want to be sure that any effort on our part will be worth while. So how will e-commerce benefit us? Let's look at the benefits e-commerce can offer our profession.

Although we've addressed many of the common concerns regarding the use of e-commerce, the majority of optometrists are still hesitant to join in, which begs the question: What's holding them back?

Why don't more doctors use e-commerce?

E-commerce leaders E-Dr. and First Insight have an answer to this question. They both say that a doctor's familiarity with the Internet is a key factor in the level of his use.

That said, more than half of all actively practicing O.D.s graduated before the birth of the World Wide Web in 1993. In light of E-Dr.'s and First Insight's answer, we can see why this segment of the O.D. population isn't eagerly using e-commerce.

Fortunately, as these individuals become more comfortable and familiar with e-mail and surfing the Internet, we can expect their acceptance and use of e-commerce to increase. Other hurdles are:

Looking ahead

The leading eyecare e-commerce Web sites will be launching new initiatives to enlist us. Some of them will offer an application service provider (ASP) model to allow us to rent, rather than purchase, their practice management software. Other sites will offer improved communication between traditional practice management software and the site's computer systems.

In today's climate, those of us who maximize office productivity and deliver the best customer service won't only survive, we'll flourish.

Dr. Hom has a rich background in e-commerce, back-end enterprise systems and supply chain management. He practiced optometry in a variety of settings and currently practices part-time in San Francisco, exclusively caring for complicated contact lens patients. He now leads all strategy and execution of corporate Application Service Provider (ASP) programs at Silicon Graphics, Inc., in Mountain View, Calif.

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2001