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A N.C. Eye Doc Passionate About Vision Health for Kids and Special Needs Patients

The vision health of children and those with special needs receives devoted, undivided attention at Special Eyes Pediatric Vision Clinic in New Bern, NC.

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THE IDEA

Special Eyes’ origins are traceable to a particular patient. In late 2014, Dr. Cathy Doty examined an 18-month-old boy who arrived at Family Eye Care in New Bern, NC, with an untreated strabismus that had notably delayed his general development. Troubled by the fact that his parents, as members of a public health scheme, had been forced to wait three months to see her — one of the few doctors in the area who accepted their coverage — Doty made the decision to dedicate herself to pediatric and special-needs optometry. Her partners were agreeable, and by May 2015 she had opened the business’s children’s facility, Special Eyes Pediatric Vision Clinic.

THE EXECUTION

Doty sees patients up to age 16 and special needs patients of all ages, offering comprehensive exams and emergency visits. “No two days are the same. Some patients come in on gurneys from residential facilities,” she says.

Staffing a niche practice presents unique challenges. “There are definitely some people who enjoy working with children, and the children can tell. I have provided some in-service training, and have put together [fitting] guidelines for our optical staff.”

Exam rooms are set up for comfort and fun. The décor draws largely on Doty’s own parenting experience, and audiovisual and sugary treats are deployed at strategic points throughout the process. “It is rare for us to need more than three adults to help us hold the child, but it has happened… I will do as much as the parents want me to do.”

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Doty has made it a mission to drum home to parents the link between vision health and behavioral issues. “Parents still believe when their children pass vision screenings at school and the pediatrician’s office, that their vision is fine. I see the ‘jaw drop’ reaction almost every day. Many of them have behavioral diagnoses and take heavy medications for issues that may have been related to their +6.00 OU prescriptions. If there are two things that I hope I can help change in this world, it would be: 1. All children deserve to have at least one comprehensive eye exam before they start school; and 2. Comprehensive vision exams should be part of the overall health evaluation of a child before they are labeled as ADD, ADHD, ODD, OCD, autism spectrum disorder, speech-delayed, or behaviorally disabled and placed on medications.”

THE REWARDS

Getting Dr. Doty to discuss herself is a challenge; this modest but highly accomplished and dedicated professional will turn the conversation back to the “critical issue of vision correction for the most vulnerable.” But she concedes being “blessed beyond measure to have a supportive husband, partner, amazing staff, and community.” She took a leap of faith, she says, “and God has provided. I can’t even put a price on what this has all meant to me personally.”

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Do It Yourself: Pediatric and Special Needs Optometry

1. TR GO NICHE. . Make contacts with pediatricians, therapists, school systems, and other eye doctors, Doty advises. “They will ALL be happy that someone is taking the lead to focus on children and/or special needs patients.”

2. AS Set the scene. Parents of kids and special needs patients like to be reassured they will have a caring experience. Special Eyes created a Google tour on its Facebook page, showing exactly what patients can expect during their visit.

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3. COA spoonful of… The No. 1 attraction in Doty’s exam rooms is the treat drawer, which helps her gain leverage. Special Eyes also has movies loaded on its M&S charts, and the children pick what they want to watch during retinoscopy and dilation.

4. CIMom’s the word. Nine times out of 10, says Doty, “Mom is the medical decision maker for the family. An OD who is willing to see their baby, free of charge, and provide good preventive care has won the family in most cases, whether or not the doctor takes their insurance.”

5. GO Soft touch. Frame selection is key, of course. Special Eyes carries Kids Bright Eyes, Dilli Dalli, Miraflex, and Solo Bambini. “We also love Gwen Stefani, Funoogles and Lindberg which allow older children to personalize their looks,” she says.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Interview with Dr. Cathy Doty

To start with, what is the relationship between New Bern Family Eye Care and Special Eyes Pediatric Vision Clinic? How many ODs and/or opticians does Special Eyes itself employ?

DR. DOTY: My husband, Dr. Shawn Doty, and I are partners with Dr. Mark Leary. The three of us owned two freestanding offices, Pamlico Family Eye Care and New Bern Family Eye Care, up until three years ago. We hired an associate in 2011, Dr. Kim Oncavage. So, there are four of us. We have two optical staff in Pamlico and four in New Bern.

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What was your motivation for moving into this niche?

As the practice grew and our doctors were booked months in advance, a little patient changed my life. This article ran in my local paper, and The Associated Press picked it up: www.washingtontimes.com

Your practice accepted InfantSEE patients prior to the opening of Special Eyes, is that correct?

Yes.

What were the factors in your deciding to join this program, and why don’t more practices do so, in your opinion?

I knew Dr. [W. David] Sullins, the optometrist and founder of this program. InfantSEE was one of his most important legacies to optometry and public health. I wanted to answer the challenge that former President Jimmy Carter gave to [the American Optometric Association] to end amblyopia. I attended the workshops that were provided at several meetings, and then I began to tell parents about the program. Word of mouth and social media helped grow InfantSEE. I think that it is an amazing opportunity for optometry to do the right thing, and start the conversation with parents about the importance of vision care for children. I may not find any problems with a baby’s eye health or development, but I can educate a parent on the importance of proper follow ups, signs and symptoms of problems, and common myths about “pink eye”, etc. I think that a lot of ODs are uncomfortable examining babies, don’t trust their retinoscopy, or in their mind they just need to fill those appointment slots with “paying patients”. Here’s the amazing thing: Nine times out of 10, it’s mom who brings the child. Mom is the medical decision maker for the family. An OD who is willing to see their baby, free of charge, and provide good preventive care has WON the family in most cases, despite whether or not the doctor takes their insurance. InfantSEE saves vision, saves lives, and can help position a doctor as an expert in their community.

Could you provide a few details about the kinds of patients you see? What sort of services are offered to special needs patients? Are these all children or does this include special-needs adults?

I see pediatric patients (0-16 years old) and ALL special needs patients. We offer comprehensive exams and same day emergency visits with pediatrician referrals. No two days are the same, that is for sure! Some of the patients come in on gurneys from residential facilities.

For a different article, an optician once described the process of fitting a child with frames as (sometimes) being like “wrestling a greased pig”. (She meant it affectionately.) How have you and your opticians learned to cater to kids in the exam room and in the optical? Have you/they received special training in this, or can they learn on the job? Are some people just better at dealing with kids than others? What are the main challenges?

There are definitely some people who enjoy working with children, and what’s interesting is that the children can tell. I have provided some in-service training for my staff at SpecialEyes, and have put together guidelines for our optical staff in the main New Bern office for fitting procedures. In our exam rooms, everything is set up for the comfort and enjoyment of the experience. If you check our Facebook page, you will see photos of the rooms. You can also take a Google tour, which helps families with special needs children to decrease their anxiety about the visit. We have movies loaded onto the M & S charts, and the children get to select what they want to watch while I am performing retinoscopy, or when they are dilating. The No. 1 attraction in my exam rooms is definitely the TREAT DRAWER, and I use it as leverage throughout the visit. It is rare for us to need more than three adults to help us hold the child, but it has happened. My rule is that I will do as much as the parents want me to do. If they are willing to help me obtain the information I need, then we can usually complete the exam.

Judging from what I’ve seen online, your practice goes out of its way to way to provide a comfortable environment for kids. Was this hard to achieve? How do they respond to the experience?

We receive many compliments daily about how bright and fun the office is. The décor was easy to design because I just used a palette of colors and themes that reminded me of when my children were small. After the first visit, they feel at home and know exactly where everything is. They know we are there to provide a thorough examination and serve them and their families.

How about the parents? What are they usually most concerned about? You must have to spend a lot of time educating them about the particulars of pediatric vision care?

I find that parents still believe when their children pass vision screenings at school and the pediatrician’s office, that their vision is fine. I see the “jaw drop” reaction almost every day. Many of them have behavioral diagnoses and take heavy medications for issues that may have been related to their +6.00 OU prescriptions. If there are two things that I hope I can help change in this world, it would be these: 1. All children deserve to have at least one comprehensive eye exam before they start school; and 2. Comprehensive vision exams should be part of the overall health evaluation of a child before they are labeled as ADD, ADHD, ODD, OCD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech Delayed, Behaviorally Disabled, and placed on medications.

Do you sell Tomato Glasses or anything similar? Are you satisfied with what your insurance plans allow you to sell to kids in terms of frames? And what are your thoughts on children’s frames/lenses in general?

In terms of rubber frames, we carry Kids Bright Eyes, Dilli Dalli, Miraflex, and Solo Bambini. We also love the Gwen Stefani’s, Funoogles, and Lindberghs, which allow older children to personalize their looks. I have recently become very involved in our optical because I know what works. I think that insurance plans are not providing enough flexibility with younger patients who are growing so quickly. For example, it would be revolutionary for an insurance company to offer a “growth” flex plan, which allows a child to get new glasses in six months rather than waiting for a year. What 3-year-old child can wear the same pair of tennis shoes for a year? Overall, I am very disappointed with insurance plans when it comes to visual benefits for children and special needs patients.

Could you comment on the rewards for yourself personally, your staff, and the business? Both personally and financially?

As I told you, I am honored and humbled that someone thought I may be worthy of your time and print space. But this article does not need to be about me, or what I have done. Hopefully, this is a platform for more discussion on this critical issue of vision correction for the most vulnerable citizens in our country—children and special needs patients. I am just blessed beyond measure to have a supportive husband, partner, amazing staff, and community that have all supported this endeavor. It was a leap of faith, and God has provided. I can’t even put a price on what this has all meant to me personally.

What comments/advice/suggestions would you have for other independent ECPs thinking about pursuing this niche?

Just do it!!!! Make contacts with pediatricians, therapists, school systems, and other eye doctors. They will ALL be happy that someone is taking the lead in their community to focus on children and/or special needs patients. Who is better trained to take care of the eyes of these patients? NO ONE. Optometrists should be the leaders in this niche, and we need to cheer each other on.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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At This Wellness-focused Pennsylvania Boutique, Eye Health is Just the Start

Combining eyecare and eyewear with a range of self-care offerings, they treat not just the eye, but the rest of the body as well.

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WHEN SISTERS DR. Giulia and Paola Tinari opened Sorella Optique and Eyecare in Paoli, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, their aim was to go beyond treating vision and eye health in isolation. They see eyecare as an integral part of overall wellbeing and wanted their practice to reflect that.

THE IDEA

Both sisters have been involved in overall health and wellness since their college days. “We’ve always had a strong belief in healing from within and getting to the root cause of any problem,” says Paola. “We think it is important to blend Eastern and Western medicine when treating not only the eye but the rest of the body. When you practice a healthy way of living, then incorporating it into your business is second nature.”

THE EXECUTION

The emphasis on wellness is evident in the products and services offered at Sorella, the advice Dr. Tinari dispenses, and the overall patient experience. “We created a soothing environment so patients feel at ease the moment they step into the office,” says Paola. “Dr. Tinari stresses the importance of good nutrition, not only for ocular health but overall health, and recommends supplementing with various antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin, bilberry, asthaxanthin, omega-3, and vitamin C.” Dr. Tinari likes to keep up with studies in nutrition and often recommends anti-inflammatory products to help reduce inflammation especially in diabetic patients or those with a family history of eye diseases like macular degeneration. Sorella offers vitamins at the office for patients to take home and are looking to bring more into inventory.

The practice’s website also links to PRN, an online vendor of a range of vitamin formulas designed to bolster many aspects of eye and vision health, including products targeting the health of the macular and retina regions of the eyes, and “Dry Eye Omega Benefits,” a formula designed to ease symptoms of the condition, among many others.

Sorella’s dry eye practice also makes use of the MiboFlo Thermoflo treatment. Says Paola: “Dry eye is very prevalent in today’s society. MiboFlo targets inflammation in the meibomian glands. Just like getting a deep tissue massage, this treatment offers patients relief by breaking down inflammatory byproducts and improving their tear film.”

Alongside their independent frame lines, Sorella Optique and Eyecare makes space for body care products such as Zents, a line of organic lotions, soaps, body washes and other items containing ingredients ranging from oolong tea to sandalwood and orris. The products claim to relieve conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as provide de-stressing effects.

To get the wellness message out, the practice relies heavily on its active Instagram presence and has plans to launch a monthly blog that patients will receive via email.

THE REWARDS

The Tinari sisters find the ongoing self-education and patient-education that a devotion to wellness entails enhances their lives as businesspeople and as ECPs. “We recognize that people today have an interest in bettering themselves. We love offering patients alternative ideas to help heal and be preventative in their journey to wellness,” Paola says.

Like any niche, wellness is a passion, says Tinari. “What is it that you are passionate about in our field? If you love seeing pediatric patients and dread geriatrics, then stop, focus on what you are into. You may lose a few patients but gain so much by doing what you love all day long.”

Do It Yourself: Create a Wellness-Oriented Practice

  • HEAL THySELF. “Take care of yourself first,” says Paola Tinari. “If you are burnt out, your patients can sense it and your business will suffer.”
  • CROSS-MARKET. Setting yourself up as a wellness-focused practice opens up joint marketing opportunities; sound out a local spa or vendor of body care goods.
  • UP YOUR SERVICE GAME. In this field, excellent customer service is even more important than ever. Be prepared to always “do what is best for the patient.”
  • pick the right tEAM. Not everyone’s cut out for this line of work. Positivity and creativity are key, says Tinari. “Get rid of toxicity and your business will flourish.”
  • EDUCATE. Create a blog or newsletter to keep patients updated on the latest products and services.

 

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Sports Vision Training Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Practice

These Ohio vision therapy specialists demonstrate how they help see their athletes succeed and their practice grow.

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Vision Development Team founder
Dr. Alex Andrich

AT THE VISION DEVELOPMENT Team in North Royalton, OH, founder Alex Andrich, OD, and his wife Patti, an occupational therapist and a partner in the practice, offer standout vision therapy, treating kids with learning disabilities, brain injury patients and those with stress-related vision problems, to name just a few. But one aspect of their practice that really sets them apart is their top-flight sports vision training, which has helped Cleveland-area athletes of all ages, from school kids to adult professionals, address vision problems and improve their performance.

THE IDEA

Sports have always been a big part of the Andrichs’ lives; the couple met on Ohio State University’s alpine ski racing team. Alex also has a background in competitive beach volleyball and race-car driving, while Patti trained with the U.S. Olympic gymnastics squad. This competitive exposure allowed them to see how small improvements in skills can translate into big gains in performance. With vision being such a big part of sports, it was a natural fit for the couple to open a practice specializing in vision training.

THE EXECUTION

The practice as it exists today was built on Dr. Andrich’s background in VT. “Sports vision training is vision therapy practiced at the highest level,” he says. He took courses in advanced VT techniques and eventually obtained board certification through the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD). He also says the education and training offered by organizations working in vision therapy such as the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA) and the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF) provide excellent models on which to build vision training.

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A typical VT case would be a child with eye-tracking difficulty causing reading problems, but as Andrich explains, “When a successful outcome is achieved the child can read better — but they can also hit a baseball better. Utilizing the latest vision therapy tech has also helped to advance my sports vision practice.”

“We go beyond looking at the eyeball and treat vision as a whole-body sense,” says Andrich. “In baseball it is important to see the ball clearly but the visual system tells the motor system critical information about ‘where’ and ‘when’ so the motor system can respond accurately.”

For the past year, Andrich has served as vision coach for the Cleveland Indians, a role he also performs for the Cleveland Monsters hockey team and the Gladiators, the city’s arena football team. He’s responsible for the refractive and ocular health needs of the athletes, but a big part of what he offers has to do with performance. Depending on the sport, he will test the athletes on up to 20 visual performance skills, then put together a training plan for each athlete. “All athletes require core vision skills like eye tracking and eye teaming, but certain sports like baseball require really fast visual reaction and processing speeds, whereas a hockey player benefits from good central/peripheral vision integration,” he says.

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The practice’s large, high-ceilinged therapy room gives the team room for on-site vision training using sports equipment.

THE REWARDS

Dr. Andrich says the main reward he derives from being a sports vision training practitioner is seeing his athletes succeed. “The best athletes set themselves apart by the amount of work they put into their sport,” he says. “Sports are competitive by nature, so the elite athlete is always looking to improve performance. Improving vision skills gives them a competitive advantage and success on the field.” And off the field, having sports vision as a part of his practice has definitely allowed it to grow, he says.

Do It Yourself: Practice Sports Vision Training

  • NETWORK. Get involved with colleagues who are doing sports vision by joining the International Sports Vision Association (sportsvision.pro).
  • START SCOUTING. Offer vision screenings for local high school and college or university sports teams.
  • BONE UP. Enroll in training that can lead to certification. Outfits that deal with vision therapy, including NORA (noravisionrehab.org) and COVD (covd.org), are ready to help.
  • CHAIR CHAT. The OD should ask each patient that comes through his exam lane about sports participation to start a dialogue.
  • GOT GEAR? Andrich has invested in eye-tracking and performance-testing equipment, including virtual reality.

 

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Spice Up Your Frame Selection with This Strategy That Probably Never Occurred to You

It gives patients a reason to visit based on product assortment rather than discounts.

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PERRY BRILL, GENERAL MANAGER at Brill Eye Center in Mission, KS, was looking for something new to base the practice’s marketing effort on, and knew that having new brands always generates more excitement than just saying you’ve got a refresh. Always one to shy away from typical optical business plans, he hit on a novel concept.

THE IDEA

Tired of brands wanting 30-plus-piece orders, he decided to try bringing in micro-collections of 10-20 pieces every month to create some email and direct-mail hype. He wanted experience with more brands quicker than his usual once-every-six-months, large brand buy. “A retailer should always have a flavor of uniqueness. Restaurants have seasonal menus and opticals should have seasonal eyewear. Give patients a reason to visit based on product assortment rather than discounts,” Brill says.

THE EXECUTION

Perry Brill

To curate a micro-collection of eight to 15 pieces, Brill says, connect with “ma and pa” frame vendors, who he says are just happy to have representation of their eyewear in any city. The easiest way to find these vendors is to go to Vision Expo, find the smaller booths and ask their minimum purchase. “Don’t expect the booths to be fancy!” he says. “Just observe the eyewear for quality and personality before making judgments. Most people will be super transparent and love your idea of creating seasonal collections.”

Brill says a small micro-collection should cost between $500 and $3,000. So far, he’s been impressed with the number of luxury or quasi-luxury brands that let him dabble with smaller orders. Being in the Kansas City area, he says, “It’s pretty easy to have exclusivity, with everyone selling bread and butter.”

The small collections now represent 10 percent of his inventory, which he figures is about right, as he wouldn’t risk going deep into the more obscure pricey stuff anyway. “I’m okay if it doesn’t sell quickly since the investment was slim.”
Micro-collections that have worked well for Brill include:

  • Ethnicity: “Asian and global fitting with acetate built-up pads and special wider temples. Don’t need a ton of frames but enough to tackle difficult-to-fit. Opticians need to up their game with fitting standards. The moment you solve frames on cheek issues — patient for a lifetime.”
  • Lucas De Stael (shown): “Ultra luxury for the high rollers and lover of texture and design. Made of leather, stone or cork. Retails for $1,000-plus.”
  • Sospiri: “Ultra luxury for the fancy woman who wants to shine — literally. Most jeweled frames are tacky; these are classy. $1,000-plus. People that want jewels want it! They will go find it if you don’t have it.”

THE REWARDS

Brill says the main benefit of ordering micro-collections is they give you a reason to engage with patients via social media and email. In such a competitive environment, and having access to great independent collections, it’s fun to test the waters with new product all the time, he says. And from a patient perspective, Brill believes that when they walk into an office they always want to see something new. “Carrying the same branded collections is easy, but having lots of collections gives patients choices and a tour around the world of independent eyewear. My optical is used to rapid change and every optician always wants to show what’s new.”

Do It Yourself: Micro Order Luxury Frames

  • PRIDE OF PLACE. Label an area in your optical with catchy signage that says something like: “New season eyewear, feel invigorated.”
  • DON’T SWEAT THE… “Don’t think too hard,” says Brill. “If the frames are bad sellers, the risk was low and you don’t need to worry about returns.”
  • HAVE FUN. “Go funky, always!” is Brill’s motto. This is your time to try wacky new inventory you would never go 50 frames deep in.
  • TAKE YOUR TIME. The key to selling such frames is sitting the patient down, explaining to them the brand story and frame characteristics.
  • GET THE WORD OUT. Inform your patients you have something cool and new in stock. “Thank goodness for email campaigns,” says Brill.

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