PRIO Corp. gave birth to the computer vision care category in 1985 when Jon Torrey, now president of the Beaverton, Ore. company, first began testing a device that simulated how one’s eyes viewed a computer screen. Since then, the company has virtually invented this area of vision care—the ECPs’ fastest growing specialty, according to recent surveys—by patenting the PRIO tester, introducing Near Variable Focus Lenses, lobbying government groups, educating the professional and the public, and sponsoring a number of studies. Torrey saw the day where virtually every American from ages five to 85 would be working on computers and where 70 to 75 percent of them would suffer from some form of Computer Vision Syndrome, according to the American Optometric Association. He co-invented the PRIO Computer Vision Tester and holds 12 patents on optical technologies. L&T spoke with Torrey recently about PRIO’s two decades of experience with CVS and to find out the latest developments in the field.
When did you realize that conventional methods of refracting were not adequate for correcting computer vision syndrome, and how did you go about developing the PRIO Computer Vision Tester? In 1986 my original partners were an optometrist, an electrical engineer and a physicist. We started reading the published literature on this issue and from that realized computer screens presented a different visual demand and there was no consensus on how to test for that. Based on the published studies of accommodative accuracy and lag of accommodation, we developed a prototype tester that duplicated the accommodative demand of a screen image. Fortunately, we had access to a laser optometer and other specialized equipment at the company I worked for at the time and we were able to measure and verify the functionality of our early version testers.
How has the general public’s awareness level of CVS changed since in 1986?Overall, there’s been a huge increase, just as you would expect. When we started PRIO, the estimates on the number of daily computer users were around three million. Now it’s well over 100 million. It’s not only the sheer number of users that’s important, it’s also the amount of time every day now spent looking at a monitor by most people. So it’s no wonder more people are feeling the effects of CVS as a result and computer vision care has become the fastest growing specialty in optometry. If doctors are not hearing about this from their patients, it’s only because those doctors are not talking about it in their offices—and their patients don’t realize there are vision care solutions.
You’ve taken a pro-active role in raising awareness of CVS, testifying at hearings held by OSHA and other regulatory groups at the federal, state and local level. Have any of these groups enacted rules or regulations to mandate the use of computer vision products? We are very proud of the role we played as the first (and only) company in optical to testify before OSHA during the development of the Federal ergonomic standard in 1998. We convinced the AOA and several groups of ODs to get involved in the process. Ultimately we improved OSHA’s language to benefit optometry and the optical industry. That standard was ratified by President Clinton and chopped by the 2000 Republican Senate. Ah, politics. So far there is no federal or state regulation that mandates computer vision care by employers. But the work we did on the legislative front has served to raise the level of awareness among many groups in both the private and public sectors, among employers and organized labor. You have to remember, at most companies, vision care is competing for funding with medical coverage and we all know the pressure created by rising medical costs.
How can ECPs grow the portion of their practice or business that comes from testing for and prescribing near variable focus lenses?
It begins with ECPs speaking with every patient about their computer use and if they spend time at a computer, testing them for their need for add power at the computer. Test every patient, regardless of age. Also, become familiar with the lens options for computer/office use and really learn to fit them on various types of patients. This part of your office will grow rapidly and you will have many happy patients and many referrals as a result. LT