At a recent conference on health care information in the digital age, a two-day event in San Diego, every presenter was showing off or talking about something very new. There were presentations on new iPhone apps to monitor blood sugar and hypert
ension, a medication “reminder” app (complete with pillbox), blogs where health care professionals talk directly to consumers, and online health care referral resources. There were real-time doctor/patient conferencing solutions via the Web, and even health care publications enhanced by rich media, via QR codes, to give the reader additional resources. One of the organizers referred to the program as two days of, “You can’t do that!”

Virtually all those who presented volunteered that the biggest hurdles they faced were from health care professionals and institutions themselves. Many of these stakeholders feel, apparently, that the information gleaned via digital interaction is not sufficiently clinical to be of real use to them. Patients apparently think differently, and more than one presenter referred to their new offering as a “disruption” to the traditional health care system and a tool for patient empowerment.

The act of disruption, of creating new paradigms and defying the established norm, is the most powerful tool for change and growth that any organization or individual can wield. Our optical industry is rife with them. Think disposable contact lenses, one-hour service superstores, free-form lens processing, and now online optical dispensing.

In each case, these events disrupted the status quo within optical, and in each case, they’ve met with resistance from the establishment. Despite that fact, each event changed the optical blueprint significantly, and in most cases (the jury’s still out on online retailing) generated overall industry growth.

But one doesn’t have to be a LensCrafters or a Vistakon to cause disruption. On an individual basis, anyone can create change by going against the grain. It could be as simple as developing a new, unique store or office environment, or doing something that the other guys don’t, like selling ocular vitamins or featuring in-office lens casting. It could be something like changing the way the staff dresses, or having everyone wear eyewear at work, even if the lenses are plano.

All too often, the independent optical community responds to market disruption with a knee-jerk, “You can’t do that!” response. One might be better served instead to really examine the disruptive event, and see if there isn’t an idea or two to be gleaned from it. Or, at the very least, let the disruption serve as a much needed wakeup call.

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