It appears things haven’t been going so smoothly in recent years for most eyecare professionals. The increased presence of online prescription eyeglass vendors and the arrival of upstart businesses such as Warby Parker—who have successfully colored the view of the business model of ECPs into a “greedy middleman” sound bite—have felt like a one-two punch both to the reputation and the value proposition of “Main Street Eyecare” offices everywhere.

But that’s actually not the problem.

The real problem is Main Street Eyecare’s reflexive reaction to any new competition: Regressive, disparaging and dare I say, sometimes even desperate. Instead of identifying how they have left themselves vulnerable to a new type of assault, most ECPs respond with either “the-sky-is-falling-and-you’ll-loose-your-eye” or “not my customer.” Neither attitude is particularly constructive or effective. The eyecare community seems hell bent on choosing the very responses with the worst possible public relations quotient: either by increasing control or vilifying the competition.

But these choices aren’t unusual. ECPs have a long history of trying to control the patient’s choice. In the 1970s, it was by withholding spectacle Rxs. In the late 1990s, it was by withholding contact lens specifications. Today, whether by withholding PDs or by removing products and brands carried by any competitor, maintaining the ultimate control of the choices available to an ever-increasingly aware eyecare consumer seems to be the default response. You would think the Federal government’s intervention, first by adding the Spectacle Release law and second through the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, would have sent a clear message to the eyecare community that interfering with an optical consumer’s freedom of choice will not be tolerated. Yet the importance of seeing this process through the perspective of a consumer remains a lesson only learned the hard way.

Even with laws in place, the eyecare community continues to lose track of the spirit of these consumer regulations. From “handing off” the Rx instead of handing it “to” the patient, to prescribing-from-the-chair (a practice with questionable intent in a world increasingly cognizant of conflicts of interest) to the whole concept that a person exiting the exam is waiting to be captured, Main Street Eyecare must begin to view everything they say and do through the lens of public opinion. Only in this way will any degree of trust and credibility, two pillars more essential than ever to doing business in the 21st century, be retained or regained by our once proud and professional community.

Barry Santini
Contributing Editor