THOUGHT LEADERSHIP » Optometry + Education

With NECO President & CEO Howard Purcell, O.D., FAAO

What does the future hold for optical in 2020 and beyond? EB’s new, intelligent Thought Leadership column will tap into the industry’s most cutting-edge independent eyecare professionals plus leaders at the top colleges of optometry, organizations, optical retailers, and frame + lens makers for a compelling view on the outlook for the industry.

How far have we come and where are we headed?

In this issue, the New England College of Optometry (NECO) President & CEO Howard Purcell, O.D., FAAO digs deep to look at the future of optometry and optometric education. The timing is perfect, on the heels of the inaugural NECO Employer and Industry Relations Summit held in November—which explored the future of optometry + optometric education by bringing nearly 100 industry leaders and educators together to discuss optometry’s future—and the debut of a new NECO business course for postgrads coming in the first quarter of 2020.

» What do you see as the biggest challenges + opportunities for optometry and optometric education today?

Dr. Purcell: It seems to me that both are inextricably connected. It is important that we recognize the incredible amount of strength and resources to which this profession has access.

The priorities and missions [of industry and optometric education] may differ, yet our partnership is rooted in our belief that we must prepare today’s optometrists for tomorrow’s optometry.

The major motivation behind NECO’s Industry Collaborative is for industry and educators to explore together how innovation, evolving patient expectations, and contemporary and emerging business models will influence optometry, and inspire us all to think differently in the midst of these changes.

Working together, as partners, we can do great things.

NECO President Howard Purcell, O.D., and Sandra Mohr, EdD, Dean of Academic Resources and Administration (center) with the Class of 2020 at the White Coat Ceremony.

» What is the impetus behind NECO’s new The Business of Optometry course for postgrads?

Dr. Purcell: One of our more recent initiatives, in many ways a response to NECO’s Industry Collaborative meeting, is the development of a two-day on-site course schedule for the first quarter of 2020: The Business of Optometry: Leading Change and Advancing Practice Management. [At the meeting], industry opinion leaders shared their observations about the lack of business acumen among graduates.

This course immerses participants in the conditions for innovation, emerging trends in eye care, offers a deep dive into key business and performance indicators, and a glimpse into the future including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, wearables, and generational kinetics. [For more information, see page 15 in this issue.]

» In your unique view, what is the biggest challenge the future holds for the vision care industry?

Dr. Purcell: Employment of optometrists is poised to increase 10% between now and 2028, yet what we do, how we do it, and with whom we collaborate will look extraordinarily different than it does today.

We all agree greater access to quality care, early diagnosis and intervention, and the importance of comprehensive eye care should not be diminished in the pursuit of convenience and lower cost, yet our dedication to this philosophy must coexist within the framework of some trends that can’t be ignored.

Some of the dynamics on our radar include healthcare policy and declining reimbursement rates, shifts in patients’ perceptions of the value of comprehensive eye care, expanding choice for care including online and retail, private equity and the consolidation of independent eyecare practices, and the rise of easy-to-use exam automation devices. If we want students to succeed—and, obviously, this is our highest priority—educating optometrists today must be as much about these forces, and how they will influence their chosen profession, as it is about proficiency.

These challenges are epidemic.

The growing application of artificial intelligence in accounting, law, and medical imaging is slowly transforming these professions, as well, and will have profound implications for the workforce of the future.

Refraction is a good example. It isn’t going away, but it is being transformed, and this will create new opportunities for expanded consultation, creative intelligence, and ultimately improved outcomes.

» In your view, what is the biggest opportunity the future holds for the vision care industry?

Dr. Purcell: The issues are clear, and we all have a great deal at stake. Respectful debate and discussion are both necessary and appropriate.

We must find a way for optometry, the eyecare industry (including employers), and the trade media to create meaningful partnerships that will benefit the patients we serve, the students we educate, and the profession we promote.

NECO’s commitment is to bring those interested parties together to help be part of the solution. Together we can do great things and prepare optometry for the future.

We all have a great deal at stake. Let’s be part of the solution!