Out With the Old, In With the New

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Technology has become a staple in today’s optometric practice; gone are the days when a Snellen eye chart and a phoropter were all you needed to care for the majority of your patients. Today, autorefractors, digital fundus cameras and optical coherence tomographers (OCT) are just a few items that grace your office space and help you provide exceptional patient care. But with this technological boom comes a constant need to upgrade—which often comes with a big price tag.

What did you invest in this year? How has it impacted your patient care? Your bottom line? See what your colleagues spent their money on this year and what they still have on their wish list in the 2016 Technology Survey from Review of Optometry.

Must-Have’s
Practitioners seem to be sinking their money into the same go-to technology each year, with electronic health records (EHRs), digital fundus cameras, patient callback/reminder systems and tonometers making the top five again. The surprise came with spectral-domain optical coherence tomographers (SD-OCT), in the top five last year at 20 percent of new purchases, being knocked out of the running by automated refraction systems. Only 13 percent of respondents purchased an automated refractor in last year’s survey, but 23 percent of this year’s survey takers said they invested in one. Those who did so focused on two key benefits: patient experience and exam efficiency.

“It made the flow of the exam much faster and patients’ experience much more interesting by actively participating in getting a new pair glasses,” one respondent said of her new automated refractor. “Patients love the technology, and refractions are smoother and take less time,” another survey taker said.

It’s no surprise patient experience was key with these purchases, as 81 percent said the impetus for new technology was improving patient care. And improve it did. Whether it was an autorefractor, a retinal imaging system or tonometer, 94 percent said their technology upgrade improved patient care. The good news is that it also seems to translate to better budgets, as 74 percent said their new purchase increased profitability as well.

Paying the Piper
Although it’s a huge benefit to your practice to have the best technology on the market, it can be tough to designate thousands of dollars for just one piece of equipment—especially considering the sheer number of tools at your disposal. Most survey takers, 41 percent, said they have limited their new tech budget to less than $10,000 this year, but a lucky 11 percent will have more than $50,000 to play with.

Others are getting creative to find ways to afford that new visual field analyzer or tonometer. Twenty percent of respondents said they plan to lease their next major piece of equipment, and 12 percent said they share equipment with another practice. And with technology advancing at breakneck speed, making that new camera or patient callback system outdated in a few short years, 80 percent agree that buying new is a better investment than refurbished or used instruments.

The hefty price tag is often easier to swallow when the new toys provide a direct financial benefit to the practice. Many purchases, such as the much-in-vogue autorefractor, increase practice productivity, so you can see more patients in a day. Others, such as an OCT, can help keep patients in the practice by reducing unnecessary referrals.

“The purchase of our OCT has made our patient care better. We’ve become more efficient in knowing when to follow and when to refer, not to mention it has made our practice lots more fun,” one respondent said. “It certainly has revolutionized the way we practice like no other piece of instrumentation has; we are on our third OCT now and could not imagine practicing without it.”

“Our SD-OCT has allowed the diagnosis of early hydroxychloroquine toxicity, confirmation of macular edema, epiretinal membrane and other causes of reduced visual acuity that previously may have only been suspected and required referral to a retinal specialist,” another survey taker said. “Also, it’s an added diagnostic tool for glaucoma management, especially for those unable to do threshold visual fields.”

With rave reviews such as this, it’s no wonder nearly 40 percent of survey takers invested in an OCT or SD-OCT this year.

This article originally ran in the September 2016 edition of Review of Optometry.