Article Date: 12/1/2001

Dispensing
Are the New Virtual Ophthalmic Dispensing Aids Worth the Investment?
Check out these products and see for yourself.
By Terri B. Goshko, Senior Associate Editor

You've seen them -- patients shuffling back and forth to the mirror trying to select new frames. When choosing, most patients can't see what the frames would look like with their prescription or with options, such as anti-reflective (AR) coated lenses. Also, they often can't see what new frames look like because they need their old spectacles to see clearly.

New ophthalmic dispensing aids that show a patient how she'll look in several frame styles can help her choose a pair and boost your bottom line. Some devices interact with the Web, some don't, but all can benefit your practice by:

Some devices also increase the available frame selection, which improves patient satisfaction. Let's take a look at some of the latest dispensing aids and at how they can benefit your practice.

ILLUSTRATION BY NICK ROTONDO

Choices at your fingertips

The most cutting-edge ophthalmic dispensing technology interfaces with a computer to give your patients an immediate image of themselves in frames of their choice -- sometimes from the comfort of their own homes. Here are some examples:

Activisu (Interactive Visual System, Inc.) Patients look into a special mirror that has a hidden camera behind it. The camera takes up to four videos or still photos of a patient wearing different frames and lenses. Patients can choose from frames in your dispensary or from a computerized database of 10,000 frames. The device creates an image of a patient wearing frames selected from the database.

Virtual products give a side-by-side view.

The patient can view her choices side by side on the computer screen and make a final choice. She can also view contact lenses. If you have your own Web site, the Activisu Virtual Web allows your patients to log onto your site and see their selections from home. Or, patients can print a color photo of themselves in their favorite frame choices to take home for feedback from family. The photo paper lists your practice's name, address and phone number.

The system calculates measurements, such as pupillary distance and heights, or segments for multifocals. These images also allow your optician to demonstrate AR coatings, tints and lens thicknesses.

You can network Activisu products, linking several computers to one mirror, or connecting many mirrors and computers. You can also link your Weco or Essilor tracer to the Activisu Partner software to increase the accuracy of measurements and send the data to the edger. Activisu interfaces with your practice management software.

Prices range from $4,950 to $10,750, depending on the options you select.

James Eugenides, O.D., of Phoenix Eye Services in Port Charlotte, Fla., uses the Activisu and finds that having patients see themselves wearing new glasses is a big asset. The videos are even better, he says. "They let patients see themselves as others do."

Susan Gailmard, O.D., agrees. Dr. Gailmard added the Activisu to her high-tech practice because she found it was easy to use, printed great pictures and was reasonably priced. "I know it's good for our reputation and patients love using it," she says.

Gailmard Eye and Laser Center doesn't use the system's on-line features. "We close the order for glasses while the patient's still in the office," says Dr. Gailmard. "We believe that fitting glasses requires professional expertise and real inventory, and that's not available on the Internet."

EyeWeb's tabletop model.

The EyeWeb System (EyeWeb.com) Available in a stand-alone or tabletop format, the EyeWeb System performs automated fitting measurements, such as segment heights and lens diameters. It replaces traditional, manual methods for obtaining the data needed for the right selection of frames and lenses. Measurements are 99% accurate, so there's a lower rate of redoing lenses and greater consumer satisfaction, according to Pierre Fay, president and CEO of EyeWeb.com.

The system uploads the patient's image, frame choices and lens choices on the dispenser Web site, which EyeWeb.com hosts and maintains. In your optical or at home, the patient can access "your" Web site (powered by EyeWeb.com) and virtually try on contact lenses in various colors and more than 20,000 frames from a database catalogue. The system's "Frames Advisor" can help her select frames.

Once she chooses her favorite frame she can order it online but must return to your office to try the glasses on in person and pay. This step helps the patient bond with your practice.

The system integrates with major practice management software. You pay $5,995 for the stand-alone imager or $4,595 for the tabletop and $250 per month to maintain your Web site powered by EyeWeb.com.

"With EyeWeb, my patients can feel everything's either in my store or on the system," says user Kevin Chauvette, O.D., with offices in Merrimack and Manchester, N.H. Dr. Chauvette notes that his patients (average age 47) still want to try on real frames and lenses before making a final decision, even if they bought them on the Web, so he offers a guarantee that he'll make sure the patient is satisfied.

Gary Gerber, O.D., of The Power Practice in Hawthorne, N.J., notes that EyeWeb.com helps him reduce the clutter in his practice's dispensary and decrease inventory carrying costs. "EyeWeb.com adds to incremental sales and decreases staff time. I'm able to sell glasses 24/7. It's pure passive income," he says.

iPoint's lens wizard shows colored lenses.

The iPoint Kiosk (Optical Innovations, Inc.) This new device captures patient photos, prescriptions from autorefractors and your recommendations. When the patient is in the dispensary, an optician guides her through the system to choose frames and lens options supported by your exam room recommendations. The lab then receives frame and lens orders electronically.

The iPoint saves the patient's favorite frame and lens packages during the office visit. Selections are available to her online by visiting your Web site. If you don't have a Web site, Optical Innovations will develop and host one as part of the package (base system price is $5,500).

Brian Hinkley, O.D., has installed the iPoint in his Lincoln, Neb. practice. He finds that it offers his patients a better selection in glasses, and many options, such as AR coating. Its software also integrates well with his lab. The device increases the size of his dispensary and helps capture sales that would otherwise walk out the door, he says.

No-Internet approaches

Not ready for the Internet world yet? Plenty of other dispensing technology options are available. All focus only on frames you have in your dispensary and offer photos your patients can take home.

Four views with the Smart Mirror.

The Smart Mirror (A.B.S., Inc.) The Smart Mirror videoimager takes up to four photos of the patient wearing her favorite choices from frames in your dispensary, complete with lens selections such as AR coating, high-index or tints. It can show up to six images of the patient wearing colored contact lenses, too. The software can go through all of the demonstrations in less than 20 minutes.

An optional color printer allows the patient to print her favorite photo and take it home for more opinions on her choice. The printing paper can list your practice's contact information.

Antoine Toyon, the company's business development manager, also sees an advantage in not being virtual. "If the customer can go on the Internet to view lenses and frames, he might go somewhere else to buy them," he explains. "The Smart Mirror can keep the business in your dispensary." Contact the company for pricing.

The Smart Mirror has helped the bottom line of Bob Fait, O.D., of Family Vision and Contact Lens Centers with locations in Burlington, and Twin Lakes, Wis. The number of AR coats he sold per month rose from 13 to 54 in the first month of using the product. "It's great for dispensers who aren't fluent salespeople. All they have to do is push buttons and let the technology sell the patient," he says.

The Camirror (CBC Corporation.) The Camirror includes a mirror, a miniature closed-circuit camera on each side of the mirror and a monitor that can display up to four images of the patient in frames from your dispensary. You can hook it up to a printer and print the photos for your patient to take home.

"The Camirror is a time saver -- patients can use it themselves with a few seconds of training," according to Terry Sanderson, O.D., of Bear River Vision in Soda Springs and Montpelier, Idaho. "It has added new enthusiasm to the dispensary."

"People like it," says Richard Perrott, O.D., of Grand Rapids, Min. Both he and Dr. Sanderson feel it will help their bottom lines and is a good value at $4,590.

Frame Display Assistant (Ophthalmic Services, Inc., distributed by Helioasis.) The Frame Display Assistant (FREDA) uses a high-resolution digital camera that's not tied to the system. The optician can carry the camera around the dispensary to photograph a patient trying frames. The patient can then view herself in the frames.

After choosing a frame, she can apply lens options. Contact lenses are also an option, and the optician can custom create a color. The system can also generate a lab order form, and print, fax or e-mail any pictures. FREDA sells for $5,995.

"We wanted a virtual frames program that helped practitioners sell their frames, not virtual ones," says Tim Ray, co-owner of Ophthalmic Services. "FREDA is like having an extra employee," explains Paola Vitiello, O.D., of Portland, Ore.

All these products offer a single view, as shown here.

Props (Hoya Vision Care.) Presently being tested and not yet available for the U.S. market, this system digitally images the patient and superimposes a frame from the dispensary plus a lens option. The patient can see what she'll look like in the frames with the lenses in place. The system can display several images and choices together and print the image.

Once the patient selects a frame, the system digitally transmits prescription information to a Hoya lab, which makes the lenses and sends them back to the optician. The eyecare professional then inserts the lenses into place.

Assessing the drawbacks

Do these technologies have disadvantages? Not many, say the O.D.s who use them. Some note that computer-wary patients won't use the technology on their own. Others wish the systems would offer faster downloading, shorter focal lengths to highlight details on small frames and include newer frames sooner. You'll also need to schedule patients carefully if you only have one set-up for use. And even the smallest system takes up some office space.

Though many doctors say that it's too early or difficult to measure the precise effect of these systems on their bottom lines, all of them agree that the overall result is positive. Patient interest in their practices has grown, and fewer patients have taken their prescriptions elsewhere. You may want to try one of these virtual dispensing options in your practice to see the benefits for yourself.

 

Before Making a Purchase, Consider These Factors About Virtual Dispensing Systems
By Gil Weber, M.B.A.

As you consider whether any form of virtual dispensing will benefit your practice, and compare systems, you should ask:

  • How large of a frame selection does a particular system offer? Look for a reasonably sized selection.
  • How often will the frame selection be updated?
  • How many images can the system's memory capture and display? Does the system allow rapid comparison of multiple images? Patients won't sit and wait long for the screen to refresh and display another image.
  • What's the quality of the images?
  • Can the system detect when a prescription isn't right for a particular frame?
  • Does a quality lab stand behind the system to ensure fast and accurate fabrication? What kind of guarantee exists regarding patient satisfaction with the final product? What kind of turnaround time is guaranteed for fabrication?
  • Will a virtual dispensary help your practice retain sales that were previously "walkouts?"
  • Will the system provide a "guided shopping experience" and thereby promote higher margins via add-on sales?
  • What are the initial and recurring costs for hardware, software and peripheral gear, such as digital cameras?
  • Can you lease a product?
  • What are the training costs and staffing requirements?
  • Can you customize the system?
  • What about managed vision care plans? Will you be able to participate in third-party optical dispensing using a virtual dispensary? Each vision plan has specific participation requirements that you'd need to check out. For example, Vision Service Plan (VSP) mandates that the owner of the practice also own the associated optical dispensary, and that the dispensary and frame displays be physically located in the same suite as the examination rooms. So, would a virtual dispensary qualify under VSP as "owned" and "displaying frames in the same suite?"
  • How will the profits flow to you, and how will the profit margins in a virtual dispensary compare to those you'd get if you ran a traditional dispensary?

Gil Weber is a nationally recognized author, lecturer and practice management consultant to the managed care and ophthalmic industries and has served as director of Managed Care for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. He also advised a virtual dispensing company during its start-up. You can reach him at (954) 915-6771 or gil@gilweber.com.

 

Company Directory

Interactive Visual System Inc.
999 Main St., Suite 201
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
Phone: 630-942-9291
Toll-free: 866-422-8484
Web address: www.activisu.com

EyeWeb.com
Phone: 646-230-1530
Web address: www.eyeweb.com

Optical Innovations, Inc.
16525 Yort Ave.
Omaha, NB. 68116
Phone: 866-493-3511
Web address: www.opticalinnovations.com

A.B.S., Inc.
701 SW 27th Ave., Suite 610
Miami, FL 33135
Phone: 888-989-4227 or 305-644-2051
Fax: 305-644-0222
Web address: www.opticvideo.com

CBC (America) Corporation
55 Mall Dr., Commack, NY
Phone: 631-864-9700 or 800-422-6707
Web address: www.camirror.com

Ophthalmic Services, Inc.
12404 N. Division #130
Spokane, WA 99218
Phone: 866-321-7727
Web address: www.OphthalmicServices.com

For Helioasis: 866-321-7727
e-mail: Trayosi@cs.com

 


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2001