What words or images popped into your head when you read the title of this article? The paradigm from which you normally practice opticianry is probably what most affected your thoughts. Grammatically speaking, you could have thought of the word service as a noun or a verb - maybe even an adjective. Even within those three distinctions, so many possibilities exist.
As a verb you may have thought of things like to repair, check, examine, or tune-up, maybe even overhaul. As a noun some of those same words might come to mind, but they mean different things. For example, check and examination might stand for the actual act of doing it, as in, "Before we decide if we can use your old frame to put in your new prescription, let me perform a 'check' on them." When thinking about service, the religious among you might have thought of some ritual or ceremony. In reference to a joyous wedding or moving funeral one might remark, "What a moving service that was." Finally, the word could function as an adjective, "She's our service manager." I wonder, however, how many of you immediately thought of the type of service I want to consider - the service that means to help, offer assistance, guide, provide advantages for, and offer benefits to the people who are the recipients of our service as Eye Care Professionals (ECPs).
I have a friend and colleague whose name is Hari Singh Bird. I first met Hari as a fellow attendee at continuing education classes in Florida. It's kind of hard to miss him in the crowd. As a follower of Sikhism, he's usually the only guy in the crowd sporting a turban. Quiet and friendly, I always liked him. Lately I have come to also respect him for the positive influence he is trying to have on the optical profession and the opticians who practice it. I recently sat down and asked him about the state of affairs in opticianry as he saw it. I think we could all learn from what he had to say...
Opticianry is defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the patient.
Opticians must assume responsibility for loss of market share.
I figured I'd deal with the politically incorrect pink elephant in the room right away, so I asked him about his religion, and if or how it affected his optical outlook.
Hari explained, "Sikhs are service-oriented philosophically and historically. One of our main tenets is to serve and share with others. Service is an intrinsic value, not a value to be added. Man's purpose is to serve. How does that apply to opticianry? The emphasis should be on service, not on income. Not to say that income is unimportant; it just shouldn't be our primary focus."
While he acknowledged that income is vital, we both agreed that if ECPs were more focused on real service to our patients, the income would follow as a natural consequence.
Hari has seen it all in our profession, and he's seen it all change. Years ago, right after his stint with the United States Marine Corps he went to work as an American Optical lab technician, learning hand surfacing, power generation, hand-stone edging, automatic edging, bench work, final inspection, ophthalmic dispensing, and "handcrafted on the consumer custom fitting." He currently holds optician licenses in Arizona and Florida, and is a member of POF - Professional Opticians of Florida.
When I asked him what he thought about the current state of opticianry, his response was an interesting paradox. While he marveled at the extraordinary accomplishments we have seen with regard to technology in the past 50 years, he lamented the fact that, "the direct patient contact delivery of eyewear has steadily declined for lack of training or emphasis on the art and craft of fitting eyewear directly on the consumer."
He further explains that, "the customized fitting of eyewear involves far more than just adjusting a nosepiece or bending a temple. It has to include reshaping, bending, stretching, twisting, aligning and sculpting of the frame components in order to personalize the eyewear. Anything less compromises the patient's visual comfort and long term wear-ability. I express it this way: Opticianry is defined by how well the eyewear fits the patient." He likes to call it, "In place, on-the-face, handcrafted frame adjusting."
"Because of the declination of this principle, all sorts of secondary deficiencies occur. For instance, opticians cannot acquire the fitting range of sizes in frame eye sizes, bridge sizes and temple lengths. The connection is obvious. When opticians don’t custom-fit the patient, the demand for size range declines, ergo the manufacturers quit offering the inventory. The decline in service goes on to impact frame quality, hand tool availability, practical dispensing furniture, and so on. This creates further deficiencies in the acceptable delivery of prescription eyewear."
One size fits all is now the industry norm.
We both agreed that this lack of personal, service-oriented, hands-on dispensing is one of the reasons why more and more optical consumers are turning to the Internet to purchase prescription eyewear. After all, what's the difference between a dispenser in a brick-and-mortar practice who simply hands a pair of glasses to a "patient" and calls it dispensing, and an optical "customer" who walks to his mailbox, opens a box and puts on his new glasses? Not much. One of the most effective ways to reduce the number of Internet-based eyewear sales is to truly give our patients what they cannot get online - a human professional, knowledgeable in the art of handcrafted adjustments and custom fitting eyewear.
"Opticians are Eyewear Professionals. Opticianry
Hari has created hands-on dispensing continuing education classes, and I urge any ophthalmic dispenser to attend them when they can. The Florida Board of Opticianry recently made the attendance at such a class for first-time applicants mandatory. This is a step in the right direction, and I challenge other state boards to follow suit.
If some of this is ringing true to you, and you would like more information about Hari, his philosophy, or the classes he has created check out some of the websites he has created - all dedicated to re-humanizing the dispensing of prescription eyewear, and more generally enhancing the profession he loves, see:
OpticianryToday.com - Reviews the history of optical dispensing over the past 50+ years.
OpticiansForChange.com - Attempts to generate-inspire meaningful change in the industry toward improving training and the dispensing of skillfully designed and the delivery of handcrafted prescription eyewear.
ServingVersusSelling.com - Offers insights into practicing a service driven strategy with less emphasis on selling, which has driven quality and craftsmanship out of the optical dispensing equation.
OpticalGuidelines.com - Describes a step-by-step, how-to for the delivery of handcrafted prescription eyewear.
OpticalWorkshops.com - Offers hands-on handcrafted frame fitting training, especially for latter-day opticians who are unfamiliar with the human-touch aspects of a profession, which is incapable of serving the consumer without direct laying-on-of-hands as do manicurists, hairdressers, dentists, etc.
OpticalCourse.com - Free online course with test.
3DDispensing.com - Promotes emphasis on Discovery (a comprehensive lifestyle interview of the patient), Design (eyewear design based on an unbiased analysis and the patient’s actual needs) and Delivery (eyewear dispensing including touch and feel, and on-the-face handcrafted frame-fitting skills).
Just between you and me.
Opticians must assume responsibility for loss of market share.
Certification, though important, is not the primary issue for today's Opticians. The primary issue is the absence of time in place 'residency training' in the art and science of handcrafting eyewear directly on the Patient. This, more than any other factor has led to the proliferation of prescription ophthalmic sales via the Internet.
Points To Ponder
With regard to today's Dispensing Opticians' concerns about technology replacing the Optician at the dispensing table, check out this edited summary of ‘Humans Are Underrated’, by Geoff Colvin:
What hope will there be for us when computers can drive cars better than humans, predict Supreme Court decisions better than legal experts, identify faces (design eyewear), scurry helpfully around offices and factories, even perform some surgeries, all faster, more reliably, and less expensively than people? The unavoidable question – will millions of people (Dispensing Opticians) lose out, unable to best the machine? – is increasingly dominating (the optical industry) business, education, economics, and policy.
The answer lies not in the nature of technology but in the nature of humans. Regardless of what computers achieve, our greatest advantage lies in what we humans are most powerfully driven to do for and with one another, arising from our deepest, most essentially human abilities—empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, building relationships, and leading. This is how we create value that is durable and not easily replicated by technology because we’re hardwired to want it (customized, hand-fitted eyewear) from humans. As technology advances, we shouldn’t focus on beating computers at what they do.
We’ll lose that contest. Instead, we must develop our most essential human abilities (hands-on-the-patient dispensing) and teach our kids (Opticians) to value not just technology but also the richness of interpersonal experience.
Of course, this means we must now be re-training many of today's Opticians, and be prepared to train future Opticians in the art and science of hands-on-the-patient, form-fitted, handcrafted eyewear.
See Letter to ECPs.
'60 Minutes' looks at 'Sticker Shock Specs' by Luxottica
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
Examples: Many dispensers practice four-pointing eyewear on a flat surface as a substitute for handcrafting eyewear directly on the Patient. This is a pointless, time consuming exercise after the frame is initially squared, usually at the lab. Once four-pointed, the eyewear must be fashioned with skilled hands, using appropriate tools, to fit the contours and anomalies that are unique to each Patient's face-skull, to wit four-pointing becomes an exercise in 'fluff.'
Temples must be handcrafted to follow the contours of the skull in order to avoid direct contact with the ears, while resting evenly against the skull at all points with no pressure, whereby the temples act to hold the eyewear comfortably in place with all gaps and space removed, while simultaneously making full contact WITH THE SKULL (without pressure), NOT THE EARS.
Then there is the issue of taking into account the physical anomalies, i.e., the disparate cranial and facial features that all Patients present to some greater or lesser degree, which are ignored by many virtually trained and even experienced Opticians.
Handcrafted eyewear training is absent in the experience of so many applicants that the Florida Board of Opticianry has adopted a rule requiring all applicants to attend a 2-hour minimum, Hands on the Patient, Handcrafted Form-Fitting Frame Workshop before licensure can occur.
"Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the Patient, not by the number of customers served." Therefore, the standard of care must always include the customized design, and the handcrafted fitting of prescription eyewear.
"For the last few decades our collective
If you'll recall, Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear fits the Patient. So, the real issue, for Opticians and Consumers to consider, is not whether prescription eyewear can be purchased in stores or online. The real issue is the current deficiency in the delivery of eyewear due to the absence of the craftsmanship and skills required to dispense form-fitting eyewear to the Consumer. The answer: hands-on training, hands-on training, hands-on training. It's time for those Opticians who know...to teach those who do not know.
If you will recall, Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear fits the Patient. So, the real issue for Opticians and Consumers to consider, is not whether prescription eyewear can be purchased in stores or online. The real issue is the current deficiency in the delivery of eyewear due to the absence of the craftsmanship and skills required to dispense form-fitting eyewear to the Consumer. The real challenge for any Optician is to take a symmetrically 4-point squared device and handcraft it to fit an asymmetrically shaped surface. The answer is hands-on training, hands-on training, hands-on training. It's time for those Opticians who know to teach those who do not know. And it is time for any Opticians who do not know to surrender their egos. It's been predicted that if Opticians fail to practice customizing eyewear to fit the Patient, Opticianry will become irrelevant as a healthcare profession.
Hari Singh Bird, Optician --
It's time for a shift in thinking.
HANDS ON THE PATIENT
Books, lectures and tests can take an Optician's skills only so far.
"Handcrafted frame fitting, i.e., touch and feel, hands-on dispensing,
Board of Opticianry accredited, and Florida
State Board approved CE
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appreciation is hereby expressed to
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