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Going digital


Unlock the potential of digital spectacle lenses for your patients, dispensary


• Digital, or free-form, spectacle lenses are changing the optical industry, but come with a double-edged sword.

• Digital lenses are expensive to make, so they cost consumers more to buy.

• A practice can overcome this challenge by ensuring that its staff understands how the lenses can create a new profit center.


By Brian P. Dunleavy

In recent years, the advent of digital spectacle lenses has changed the optical industry. Lens manufacturers have devoted significant research and development resources to perfecting the technology, which promises truly customized prescription lenses to wearers.

Each new product launch in the category has added to the buzz surrounding it. Online chat forums and blogs dedicated to eye care have been busy with comments on the new products and the potential for added sales in the dispensary. Some have also detailed shortcomings with the new technology.

In the end, what makes the lenses unique-and an opportunity for the eye-care professional (ECP)-is that they transcend the “eyeglasses-in-about-an-hour” culture that has permeated the optical business during the 25 years or so. Indeed, the equipment required to process digital spectacle lenses properly is expensive, and the technology is highly specialized.

“We essentially have two types of lenses now,” said Peter Shaw-McMinn, OD, a partner in group practice in suburban Phoenix. “We have the older-technology lenses, where we had to cut a couple of curves on the lens to get the power, and we have the new digital lenses, where the machine adjusts the blade and cuts the powers based on computer input. The end result with digital lenses is more natural vision, and you won’t see them made ‘in about an hour.’”

Patient education is key

As great as these lens products are for ECPs and patients alike, they also present a challenge. Because digital lenses are more expensive to make, they also cost more-for the ECP to sell and for the patient to buy. So how do ECPs and their optical staffs best position these products to maximize sales?

Part of the problem is that the marketing messages from digital lens manufacturers are confusing, noted Martha E. Mijares, an optician and optical director at Southern California College of Optometry, Fullerton, CA.

“The product materials can be convoluted,” Mijares said. “Some designs are semi-digital, while others are fully digital.”

For some ECPs, she said, the technology doublespeak means that it’s hard to discern where these products fit in their dispensing platforms and how best to explain these innovations to their patients.

Dr. Shaw-McMinn, who lectures frequently on lens dispensing, also believes the key to dispensing digital lenses successfully is ECP/staff education.

Patients do not necessarily need to understand all the details about the new technology, but the ECPs and the optical staffs do, he said. This may mean attending seminars at trade shows or sitting down with lens manufacturer sales representatives.

Mijares believes that it is beneficial for ECPs and their optical staffs to visit wholesale laboratories that process digital and free-form lenses so that they can see the process for themselves.

“Understanding higher-order aberrations (HOAs) and aberrometry makes it much easier to understand digital technology,” Dr. Shaw-McMinn said.

“Our brand is to educate the patients at every opportunity on what we have to offer to improve their lives,” he said. “At our practice, we develop simple scripts about digital lenses for the receptionist, the technician, and the optician. I don’t think they are used as often as I’d like, but I control what I say as the doctor, so I always reinforce the need for these products with my patients.”

Key talking points

As Mijares noted, all digital lenses differ in terms of design. In short, some lenses are more digital than others, meaning some lens designs are digitally surfaced on one side (Essilor Ideal, Ideal Short, and Ideal Advanced; Shamir Autograph; Seiko Succeed; and Zeiss Individual). Others are digitally surfaced on both the front and back of the lens (Varilux Physio Enhanced; Definity and Definity Short; Varilux 360 Progressives; and Hoyalux ID).

Although digital designs are available in progressive addition and single vision, some experts believe the benefits of the technology are more pronounced in progressive-addition lenses, except in patients with high single-vision prescriptions. As the technology improves, however, this may change.

Regardless of how digital lenses are surfaced, all of them offer several key benefits to wearers, according to Dr. Shaw McMinn.

With his patients, he emphasizes these points:

  • Patients do not need to know the details about the high-tech nature of the processing equipment and the process. But they should know that the lenses they are buying are made with “multimillion-dollar, computerized equipment” that can process more exact prescriptions and compensate for spherical aberration.

  • With this new equipment, lenses can be processed so that each area of the lens-the optical center and the periphery-can be designed with specific focusing properties. This reduces peripheral distortion and creates lenses with more natural vision than before.

  • These spectacle lenses offer wearers more comfort and more flexibility with their vision, meaning they will see better overall, which will improve their quality of life.

  • Digital and free-form lenses enable ECPs to correct for distortions caused by lens optics, congenital eye conditions, the aging process, or eye disease.

“Using an aberrometer makes me realize how important digital lenses are to many patients,” Dr. Shaw-McMinn said. “We’ve always known that the eye has potentially millions of different powers, but in the past we could not make lenses to correct for all of them. We can do that now.”



Digital lenses and ocular disease

Digital lenses can help patients with certain ocular diseases or conditions, according to Peter Shaw-McMinn, OD, including:

  • Corneal scarring

  • Corneal dystrophies

  • Cataracts

  • Macular edema

  • Age-related macular degeneration


Peter Shaw-McMinn, OD

E: pshawmcminn@scco.edu

Dr. Shaw-McMinn has received honoraria from numerous ophthalmic industry partners, including Allergan, Essilor of America, and Novartis/CIBA Vision. He serves on many advisory boards, such as the Association of Practice Management Educators, Humana National Physician Advisory Board, and International Vision Expo.



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