ON ONE with Chelsy Pham, inventor of VSP’s otto
This month, VSP Optics Group
launches otto (One Touch to Optical), an iPad app that serves not
only as a measuring tool, but as a virtual optician’s assistant. It
goes beyond taking pictures of the patient to capture all necessary
measurements to handle such tasks as patient check-in and order
processing. It also helps with product consultation and allows
opticians to immediately check on product availability and
compatibility, and tracks the process of each patient throughout the
exam and/or dispensing process.
One of the reasons it
offers all these things? Its creator is an optician herself.
In preparation for the
app’s launch this month, Eyecare Business caught up with
Chelsy Pham, ABOC, VSP Optics Group product and technology consultant.
What got you started in the opticianry field?
CHELSY PHAM: I
have been a practicing optician since 2007, when I started helping
out at my family’s private practice. I started my career at VSP in
1995 in customer service. I then moved into the contract lab space
where we managed our lab network and products. I was a communication
specialist, updating parts of the provider reference and lab manuals.
In 2007, I decided I
wanted to learn more about our laboratory and lens manufacturing, so
I took a position as the operations supervisor at our lab here in
Sacramento (now called VSPOne Sacramento). I learned so much
about lenses and the process they go through to become a pair of
glasses. This is where my interest in being an optician came about.
I wanted to learn about the entire supply chain.
In 2008, I moved back
to the corporate offices and began working on special projects, such
as the In-Office Finishing Stock Lens Program.
Today, I am a product
and technology consultant for the VSP Optics Group. My job is to
evaluate new technologies for doctors and patients.
EB: Do you still
work as an optician or do you primarily do product development work?
CP: I am still a
practicing optician; I fill in when we need additional staffing, but
primarily on weekends and at our trunk shows. I enjoy being hands on
thinking of ways to improve otto.
EB: How did the
idea for otto originate?
CP: I was
fortunate enough to work with a team of great industry leaders—one
who became my mentor, Warren Meyer, sr. vice president of the VSPOne
Optical Technology Centers. He set me on a mission to find a
measurement tool. I’ve always loved new technology. When my
husband bought me an iPad, we were using it at the practice to demo
contact lens prices. So I thought why not put the two together? I
took the idea to my leadership team at VSP, and with the support of
my team and Dave Delle Donne, vice president of business development
for the VSP Optics Group, here we are!
EB: How much
have you been involved in otto’s creation?
You can say I was involved with otto from conception through product
delivery and everything in between. I am one of the inventors of the
concept. The other inventors are Dave Heglund, and Mike Mangelson.
Mike on his own also had a concept of an iPad-dispensing tool, he is
in our IT division.
EB: What are
some of your favorite features in otto?
CP: I have
First is measurements;
it’s the reason for otto—a simple and easy-to-use measurement
tool. I have tried and tried to use other measurement systems in the
practice and have found that they take a lot of practice and can make
me look silly in front of patients. I love how easy it is to take the
measurements on otto; you literally just hold it up.
Second is the frame
catalog. I work part time at four different locations. It’s crazy
trying to locate the frame catalog. Every office has its special
place for it—which is fine—but I can never find it and have to
walk away from the patient to do so. I also work on weekends, so I
can’t call anyone to ask if a particular frame comes in a certain
color or size. So, I love that I can answer those questions for my
patients with one or two taps. Plus, a live frame catalog with
pricing is just much more convenient for everyone in the practice.
Last, but not least, is
creating customized package offerings within otto. This isn’t a new
concept; it’s just putting the paper and calculator away and
replacing it with real-time prices and visuals so your patients see
exactly what their choices are and how much they cost. It’s very
streamlined and is more professional than jotting numbers down on a
pad of paper.
EB: What, in
your opinion, sets otto apart from other optical apps?
CP: I think what
sets otto apart is that it is an app that helps enhance the skill
sets of the dispensing optician. It makes the dispensary experience
more personal, streamlined, and professional for the patient. The
patient is also more involved in the process, which is always a good
thing for purchase decisions.
EB: Do you ever
get feedback from opticians along the lines of “I’ve been waiting
for someone to address these issues?”
CP: Yes, all the
time. My experiences good and bad are shared experiences.
Recommending a product that doesn’t exist or isn’t available yet
or miscalculating patient fees are mistakes that all opticians make
at some point. The work of an optician is an adventure with each
patient, each with different needs. Otto is a tool that will help
eliminate a lot of those issues automatically so opticians can spend
more time focusing on the patient.
EB: How did you
go from optician to app designer? Do you have training in software
CP: In college I
majored in Management Information Systems. I started taking database
classes, and then went on to take some basic programming courses.
About three years into it, one of my professors gave us a programming
project. He said, “Go develop a software program that would allow
me to order hamburgers and charge by the pound.” So, a month later
I came back with it and he said it wasn’t like anything he wanted
at all and gave “C” to the entire class. Then he said, that’s
what development was like in the real world.
So I stopped being a
developer and decided that business wasn’t for me. That’s the
same time I ended up working at VSP. Since I enjoyed the industry and
the people, I stayed, earned my MBA and my ABO.
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