At My Eyelab, the doctor won’t see you now
To show off its fancy virtual eye exams, My Eyelab set up a test appointment where a refractionist, shown remotely on the screen top left, virtually went through the process with a patient, who looks through the autorefractor, top right.
Close your eyes and bring yourself on a virtual journey to your last eye exam. After filling out the insurance paperwork, an assistant brings you down a hall and into a dimly lit room with the big machine front and center.
Called an autorefractor, this is the two-holed device you peer into, while viewing letters of varying blurriness or clarity. There’s a revolution brewing within these beige walls, as a new company called My Eyelab is upending the world of optometry with fancy new technology, while simultaneously franchising yet another component of the American medical establishment.
The high-tech trick up My Eyelab’s lab coat-covered sleeves is the technology behind its unusual autorefractor exams. While everything’s the same from the patient’s perspective—just like a traditional eye doctor’s office—the machine is actually being controlled by a “remote refractionist” who’s not even in the room, and might not even be in the same office.
This technician is running the software and switching the lenses while asking you the age-old questions: “One or two? One or two? Is that better? How about now?”
Following a video chat demonstrating the procedure, I felt willing to trust my eyes to such a new-age eye exam and to bet patients of the future will be seeing a lot more tech-enabled innovations like these. Such quick acceptance is the usual. After explaining that the autorefractor was being operated from afar, most patients have no further questions about the process, said Dr. Brad Brocwell, vice president of clinical operations at Vision Precision Holdings, My Eyelab’s Ohio-based parent company.
My Eyelab said customers react well to virtual eye exams, a boon for profits and efficiency.
For owners of the brand’s franchised optometry locations, though, operating the business without needing an optometrist on site is a groundbreaking innovation that enables more efficient use of a doctor’s time and, crucially, better profit margins than an old-school optometrist’s office.
“As far as the patient is concerned, there’s not a cost savings, because we’re still providing the same quality eye care—really the benefit is to the franchisee,” Brocwell said, highlighting that this reduces the inefficiency of a highly paid doctor waiting for the next patient during down times.
My Eyelab was founded in 2013 and first began franchising in late 2016, with its first franchised locations just coming online in the second half of 2017, including an 18-unit deal recently signed for the Atlanta metro area. Brocwell said the brand’s franchise fee is $24,900, but added they look for candidates with $200,000 to invest and a minimum net worth of $500,000 to shoulder the significant initial costs of building a location and developing a patient base.
The company’s locations do accept insurance, which is notable as many franchised medical providers completely avoid any involvement with insurance providers. Brocwell said potential franchisees don’t need an optical background, but added the onboarding process includes thorough training for the operator and staff. He said some of its franchisees prefer to be at the clinic day to day, although that isn’t required.
With its so-called “telemedicine” up and running at 25 of the company’s non-franchised locations, Brocwell said they haven’t encountered much kickback from patients of any age regarding the high-tech exams.
“It really comes down to the presentation and making sure you’re addressing the patient’s concerns,” he said. “All of our stores have full access to the doctors and provide the level of care that makes the patients feel comfortable.”
Debuting such technology required creating proprietary software to control the autorefractor, changing the lenses at the remote refractionist’s direction. The doctor added that software is intuitive and, with proper instruction, “we can train anybody.”
From the doctor’s perspective, Brocwell said the technology affords them more freedom in scheduling their work weeks, allows them to see a larger number of patients and focus on “getting to do what they enjoy.”
Asked if that meant doctors could virtually see patients in their PJs from the comfort of their homes, he said that was technically possible, but added that wouldn’t be the norm, as higher-volume work weeks would often require an office setting for maximum efficiency.
“We’re on the forefront … and we have a responsibility to do it the right way, because it’s going to be very impactful for the industry,” he said. “It’s going to change the way medicine is practiced."