Eyecare is quickly evolving into a future that looks much different than it did just a few years ago. We recently sat down with Dr. Chad Overman, OD, 20/20NOW’s new clinical advisor, to pick his brain about where the industry is today and where it’s going. Dr. Overman comes to 20/20NOW with more than 23 years of optometric experience, including private practice and leadership roles in corporate optometry, where he served as director of professional relations at Walmart.
Q: As an optometrist who’s been involved with eyecare for many years, how would you describe the state of the field today?
A: When I look at the landscape today, I see a real need for optometry and patients to converge. We have to give patients what they want when they want it and, more often than not today, that’s not in a traditional optometric practice setting. Often that’s because the hours aren’t convenient for them or the location isn’t easily accessible. There are any number of reasons that it’s not easy for patients to access care from optometrists in their offices. That’s why it’s more important than ever for eyecare providers to offer quality, affordability and accessibility. Those are the things I think we need to always deliver to our patients.
Q: How should the industry respond to this changing landscape?
A: As the population ages and as vision problems increase with the growing use of electronic devices, we’re seeing more patients—and, as optometrists, we’re at the point of the spear. That’s because we’re often the first doctor people go to if they think they have a problem. If they’re experiencing headaches or blurry vision and they don’t have a primary care physician, they’ll go to their optometrist because they think it’s a vision problem. Yet, we know it could be actually any number of health issues. So, we’re typically the first ones to see these issues.
As there is more demand and we see more patients, efficiency is going to be more of an issue. The optical retail sector is already experiencing this with some locations experiencing significant backlogs, as much as three months. In fact, retail is a good place to start adopting new technologies that can help deliver greater efficiencies.
Q: Speaking of retail, how has that segment of the industry evolved in your experience?
A: It’s rapidly growing with new players emerging into the space and significant new growth of existing operators. CVS and Walgreens are coming into the mix, while Costco and Walmart continue to grow and build new locations. Physician shortages continue to be an issue, especially in rural locations. That’s why a number of retail operators currently have hundreds of locations that we call “dark stores,” where they have no doctor or very minimal coverage. As a result, accessibility to eyecare in those communities is very poor. Those are places where there is a real need for greater accessibility to quality, affordable eyecare.
Q: Why did you decide to make the move to join the 20/20NOW team?
A: I’ve had opportunities to join many groups that are doing online eye exams, but I’ve been very picky about who’s doing it right. When I looked at what 20/20NOW is doing and how they’re doing it, I believe they may be the only one that is doing what I consider comprehensive exams. I feel they are the leader in the industry. Simply put, I want optometry to be at the table. And I want to be at the table, helping form the future of telehealth and this is the company I believe I can do that with.
Q: How do you define your role at 20/20NOW?
A: I’m a clinical advisor, so I bring the optometrist’s perspective whenever we have conversations with new and potential customers. I bring some credibility from the optometrist side of things because of my hands-on experience serving patients and because talking with optometrists is something I’ve done my whole career. I’m very interested in making sure optometrists win right along with everyone else. At 20/20NOW, I’m involved with anything that can touch optometrists or the process—or if there’s a way to improve the process, I’ll help build that.
Q: How does your new role at 20/20NOW fit into your personal mission?
A: My goal has always been to leave optometry better than how I found it. Every move I’ve made in my career has been to leave a bigger footprint than what I did in my last position. I started out as an optometrist in one location, then took on multiple locations. Then, I moved onto Walmart, covering half the country in a recruiting capacity, then the whole country as director of professional relations.
Everything I’ve done has been to make optometry better. As a consultant with 20/20NOW, I can do even more. I think it’s going in the right direction and I think their technology is the key to that.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the most important thing for everyone to understand about the 20/20NOW technology?
A: I want doctors and patients to understand that this is much more than an online eye exam. We’re offering a full comprehensive eye exam within a doctor’s practice or retail location. Any condition that a doctor can identify, our exam can identify. In fact, after performing more than two million exams, the 20/20NOW technology has diagnosed a wide range of conditions that have enabled the eyecare provider to refer the patient for further treatment. These success stories include cases of diabetic retinopathy, hypertension, choroidal melanoma, even brain tumors.
Q: The 20/20NOW technology includes a proprietary AI technology called Eyelogic®. Why is AI so important to the process?
A: AI helps the doctor read the retinal photos more efficiently. That’s a very big thing when it comes to performing comprehensive eye exams efficiently. When the exam is done, the doctor goes in and looks at all the photos. After looking at hundreds of photos, at the end of the day, it can get kind of tough to diagnose certain conditions. With AI driving the process, doctors are able to identify microscopic lesions that are nearly impossible to detect with the human eye. This is critical, because it gives practitioners the ability to screen at-risk patients and diagnose conditions at their early stages, when it’s more possible to manage the symptoms and avoid the worst outcomes.
Q: How is the 20/20NOW technology being received by patients?
A: It’s been very well received by patients. Patient Satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores are well above industry averages. Patients like to get an exam when they want, whether a doctor is there or not. There’s a technician in the room with the patient the entire time. As part of the exam, the remote doctor appears onscreen via videoconferencing to talk with the patient directly about their exam results and answer any questions they may have . The reaction from patients is often “Wow, this is cool.”
Q: How can independent ECPs benefit from telehealth?
A: Telehealth can provide many benefits to ECPs. First, it’s an ideal way to improve the productivity of an office by adding a second lane to serve walk-in and overflow patients. But, more importantly, it allows you to serve patients when the doctor isn’t present or available. Based on my experience, a simple way to attract more patients is to offer evening and weekend appointments through telehealth. Some doctors are also serving patients in remote or rural areas through telehealth satellite locations. There’s also a lifestyle benefit for doctors, since they don’t have to work evenings or late hours or travel to distant locations to serve more patients.
Q: How are doctors reacting?
A: When it comes to doctors, they really need to see it for themselves, because when they do, they’re convinced that digital health is a great solution for their practice. We hope that optometrists will seek us out to better understand the standard of care being offered.
DR. CHAD OVERMAN
Optometrist, 20/20NOW Clinical Advisor