Article Date: 12/1/2001

O.D. TO O.D.
Your Technology Plan for 2002
Technological breakthroughs are occurring in all areas of optometric practice.
BY NEIL B. GAILMARD, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor

It's hard to believe that 2001 is coming to a close already. It has been a difficult year for our nation. In addition to human tragedy, we're well aware of the economic toll from the attack on America. Many practitioners experienced this in terms of slower patient flow and reduced discretionary spending. Still, I'm seeing signs that the nation is beginning to bounce back. It may take several months, but we're strong and resilient.

The end of the year is a traditional time to look ahead and to set goals for the next year. One of the biggest opportunities to propel a practice forward is technology. Investing in any part of the broad range of technological advancements will set your practice apart and signal strength to your patient base. Let's take a look at technology options in a typical practice.

Business office

Upgrading your practice management software offers many opportunities for increased efficiency in the office, including better control over billing, recall and marketing. Electronic medical records (EMR) and the move toward the paperless office are among the hottest trends in practice management. The looming Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will have a huge impact on our record keeping in the coming year and beyond.

Pre-test areas

The technology for devices such as field screeners, autorefractors, topographers, gentle air-puff tonometers and autolensmeters is rapidly improving. The challenge is to develop a standard for electronic data recording so that various proprietary systems can communicate with each other and with optometric management software. But this instrumentation offers many advantages, even if the results are printed out the old-fashioned way.

The examination room

Networked computer workstations are increasingly common in exam rooms. While they serve many purposes, one of the most exciting applications is digital imaging. By taking digital retinal photographs (or corneal maps) during pre-testing, and bringing the images up on a monitor in the exam room, you can take advantage of tremendous diagnostic capabilities. And the "Wow" factor for patients isn't a bad thing either.

Optical dispensing

Virtual dispensing systems are hot new items (see page 36 of this issue). They help you differentiate your optical from the pack with high-tech ways for people to see what they'll look like in their new glasses, watch virtual demos of lens options and take home a printed photo to show family and friends.

The private office

Your office could become the hub for technology operations, which may include an advanced practice Web site with e-commerce capability, e-mail addresses for key staff members, e-newsletters and e-recall notices for patients.

What are your plans for entering the high-tech arena? Formulating a technology plan is a necessity for doctors who want future growth. Unless you're one of the few optometrists who's blessed with the aptitude and time to keep up with this complex field, my advice is to hire a professional to assist you with planning and implementation. Just as we all work with accountants, bankers and attorneys, so should we work with a new professional: the information technology consultant.

I wish you a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2001