The Lens of Public Opinion
It appears things haven't been going so smoothly in recent years for eye care professionals. The increased presence of online prescription eyeglass vendors and the arrival of upstart businesses like Warby Parker - who've successfully colored the view of the business model of ECPs into a "greedy middleman" soundbite - have felt like a 1-2 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 it...sometimes even desperate. Instead of identifying how they left themselves vulnerable to a new type of competitive assault, most ECP respond with either the-sky-is-falling-and-you'll-loose-your-eye or "not my customer,"...neither of which is particularly constructive or effective. In fact, 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 patient's choice. In the 1970's they tried withholding spectacle Rxs. In the late 1990's they attempted to withhold contact lens specifications. Today, whether by withholding PDs or by removing products or brands carried by any competitor, maintaining ultimate control of the choices available to an increasing 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 eye care community that interfering with an optical consumer's freedom of choice will not be tolerated. Yet the tremendous importance of seeing this process through the perspective of a consumer remains a lesson ECPs seem to only learn the hard way.
Even with laws in place, the eye care community loses track of the essential spirit of these consumer regulations. From "handing off" the Rx instead of “handing to” the patient, to “prescribing from the chair" - a practice with more than questionable intent in a world increasing cognizant of conflicts of interest - to the whole concept that a person exiting the exam room is “prey available for capture,” Main Street Eyecare must begin viewing everything they say and do through the honest 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 regained by our once proud and professional community.