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John Marvin

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Successful disruptors don’t change the rules, they exploit the weaknesses and defenses of the competition. The same weaknesses and defenses the competition created in the first place.

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A victor exploits the defenses of its competition. It turns their perceived strengths against them until they have nothing left to offer.

THE DELIVERY OF eyecare is going through a prolonged cycle of disruption. New technology enables remote eye exams. People can order prescription eyewear online and have it shipped to their home. Online refractions serve as substitutes for scheduling eye exams. Wall Street is funding the consolidation of the independent practice and optometrists are either celebrating the windfall or criticizing those who sell. With all of this disruption, there is one element of the industry that has not changed; people still need and want eyewear.

But the real threat to the conventional delivery of eyecare comes from those who hope to retain the practices of the past and defend the status quo. This is referred to as defend and extend management.

Disruptors are at an advantage because the guardians of tradition tend to be risk averse and indecisive. The future, and success in our profession, does not belong to the strong defeating the weak, but the fast overcoming the slow. Those who see opportunity — or recognize a consumer preference that is not being met — and quickly build systems to deliver that benefit, win.

Unfortunately, listening to the consumer and responding with innovation is not the approach taken by most independent ECPs. State and local societies defend traditional norms and seek to regulate and restrict optometry from innovation.

Nationwide, young ODs are not joining these societies. Seeking work-life balance, they prefer to see patients and spend time with their families.

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Consequently, the younger generation do not understand archaic restrictions on the practice of optometry by state licensing boards. Examples include restrictions on the number of locations that any one OD can own or whether an OD can partner with an optician to jointly own a practice. One is considered a licensed professional and one is not. Why?

In the meantime, innovative disruptors hire lawyers and come up with creative schemes to avoid breaking the law. For example, in Texas, companies hire or partner with MDs to employ tens of ODs to work in multiple, corporate locations.

Since the ODs are employed by an MD, their professional services fall under the Texas Medical Act instead of the Texas Optometry Act. Under this act, there are practically no restrictions on ODs, numbers of locations, advertising offers or other activities that are strictly forbidden by the Texas Optometry Act. Furthermore, the Texas Board of Optometry has no budget with which to investigate or enforce its rules. They rely on the state Attorney General to investigate and enforce the laws.

In an almost surreal irony, the very restrictions imposed by the Texas Optometry Act are working against the profession and enabling bold disruptions in the conventional delivery of eyecare.

The only way for optometry to keep from becoming just another really good part-time job, much like pharmacy is today, is for state and local leadership to stand up and advocate on behalf of patients in every state. Patients want high quality eyecare, convenient delivery of services and competitive prices for eyewear. It is time the independent providers of these services stop working to protect themselves and start caring about the preferences of their customers.

Successful disruptors don’t change the rules, they exploit the weaknesses and defenses of the competition. The same weaknesses and defenses the competition created in the first place.

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