Tips for bringing your optical into the 21st century

Your goal is to modernize the optical and bring it into the 21st century. It is important to manage all states of transition from the beginning, when opticians are experiencing a flood of conflicting emotions, through the confusion and learning curve, past the quitting and avoidance, and all the way to success.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

It was the best and worst of times. The opening of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities accurately describes the climate of many an in-house dispensary, transitioning to cloud-based processes and a paperless environment. It’s an amplification of how you felt when the clinic went paperless. It is the stress you saw on your front desk employee’s face during the fifteen minutes she spent the first time she used the practice’s software to book a patient over the telephone and handle the patient in front of her-times 32!!

Forced change is never easy. Stanford University has an entire website devoted to stress and organizational change.

Your goal is to modernize the optical and bring it into the 21st century. It is important to manage all states of transition from the beginning, when opticians are experiencing a flood of conflicting emotions, through the confusion and learning curve, past the quitting and avoidance, and all the way to success. Dispensary-wide change requires concentration and often keyboarding skills that your optician has never had to master. (But give him a mangled frame and watch his dexterity and small motor skills excel.)

5 more pressures on opticians


Naturally, you are looking for change combined with your opticians’ customary level of care and caring. You are asking them to sell premium products while almost simultaneously performing, at a minimum, the following five new activities.

  • Capturing the manifest prescription from EHR data.

  • Using the Rx Order portion of your optical software, accurately recording all measurements in the correct blanks.

  • Quickly typing in all spectacle lens upgrades and calculating overages due from the patient.

  • Promptly mastering entering vision plan orders through online portals either with or without a software interface.

  • All of the above in less than 15 minutes while conversing with the patient about the benefits and features of his or her eyewear package.

If that doesn’t allow you to imagine the pressure your opticians are under, imagine you are accompanying me this spring. As you read this, Dear Doctor, I may be at Vision Expo East in New York (April) or ASCRS•ASOA Symposium & Congress (May, New Orleans) near a new technology vendor. You know the ones. They have a piece of fruit as an eye replacement and invite surgeons to “test drive” their “latest and greatest” surgical device or laser using an orange.

Watch facial expressions and observe the body language of the surgeon practicing the skill with an unfamiliar device. Notice his tension and stern concentration. Are you imagining watching a doctor who does not want to be interrupted? One that would be annoyed if you spoke loudly?

The concentration needed to duplicate excellence while improving and changing the process, Dear Reader, can also be seen on the faces of dispensary personnel upgrading technology. Personnel are also tasked to be warm and welcoming. You want them to be available to answer questions and drop what they are doing to adjust Mrs. Picky’s glasses for the third week in a row. “Honey, when I watch TV in bed at night they hurt. Just here…”

Adopting new technology redefines professionalism


Adopting New Technology Redefines Optical Professionalism

The best of times is an optician that enjoys change and has both a sales personality and the ability to work effectively on many assignments simultaneously. The software used doesn’t matter as much as the wisdom of leadership and the team’s commitment to a common vision of a modern optical; the vision of an optical experience that is paperless and uses technology and Internet connectivity to enhance the customer’s experience.

Your leadership is tasked to develop a change strategy that supports your software’s features and trains the optician how to use their robust features to follow-through from supplier to customer.

The worst change in management tactics will lead to a winter of despair: opticians feeling defeated; sales becoming “just what my plan covers”; and patient’s eyewear package not arriving for weeks-because it got lost in the pile of orders waiting to be entered; and the delivered product turning out to not even be what the customer ordered.

In this age of wisdom, it is foolishness to think that your lead optician has the natural skills and talents it will take to lead your team through an optical reboot. Train, train, and train some more. Expect to invest about 244 training man-hours before you see smiles and speedy big-ticket transactions returning.

Throughout the process, your management team should be supportive. Keeping everyone involved and talking through the issues will minimize resistance and encourage involvement and acceptance of change.

Will everyone survive?


Will everyone survive? That’s their choice. Change is an inside job. It takes an I-Think-I-Can attitude. The first two steps are to freely share information and allow key optical personnel to make as many decisions as possible. For example, accept opticians’ opinions about which optical software to purchase on your management team’s short list.  Maybe this isn’t possible. How about letting them decide what educational apps to load on the dispensary’s tablet? What about boosting morale by purchasing a high-tech lensometer or upgrading the way measurements used in the fabrication of digital spectacle lenses are taken?

The third step is to focus on aptitude and not positions. The possibilities are limitless. Everyone must work to find multiple ways that all lead to an efficient modern optical. Just don’t erect a metaphorical guillotine. Separate the people from the struggle of relearning skills and integrating technology into processes.

Hiring younger, tech-savvy employees to replace seasoned opticians eliminates a mind-trust of optical experience that the aging eye needs. Work to find multiple scenarios for mutual gains. Insist that the change process be based on published, objective criteria.

How will your story turn out? That remains to be seen. Just remember what you learned about human nature from Dickens’ classic:

            It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,

it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of

incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the

spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,


Donna Suter (423-400-3626; is an internationally recognized authority on the unique practice management issues that face dispensing eyecare practitioners.

Suter Consulting Group

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