As published by Cory Hakanen, OD, MBA on newgradoptometry.com
Optometry is a thriving, progressive field. Or at least, that’s how optometrists feel about it. But it’s safe to say that visiting many practices feels like going back in time to the mid-1900s, where the optometry office design and equipment screams of antiquation. While the eye care field is rife with innovation and cutting-edge technology, that’s not always what patients perceive between sitting on musty, vintage furniture and being challenged to choose “1 or 2” behind a phoropter that could have been taken from the pages of a steampunk novel.
It’s time for ODs to step into the 21st century and showcase our practices like the modern clinicians we are. To illustrate a best-in-class example of a modern optometry practice, we’ll be highlighting the private practice of Dr. Nikki Iravani, an experienced OD and eye care industry veteran who is able to keep things fresh with her unique insight and skills.
The Clinic/Retail Hybrid: Best of Both Worlds
Dr. Iravani’s private practice — eyeXam — is based in Santa Clara, CA, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Nestled in a cozy retail plaza between large, glossy tech buildings, the practice isn’t far from powerhouses like Apple, Facebook, and Google. And while the majority of foot traffic into the clinic is patients, you may not necessarily know that eyeXam is an optometry practice at first glance. Situated between a lunch hotspot and a chic bookstore, its logo, storefront marketing, and open doors make it appear as if it were a retail shop like any other. Therein lies part of the beauty — it invites guests in without needing a reason like an eye exam.
A Brief History
Dr. Iravani’s unique approach to private practice didn’t happen overnight; she has an impressive and multi-faceted resume. After graduating from the University of Houston College of Optometry, Dr. Iravani returned to her hometown in southern California after being offered a position as a Research Optometrist by Allergan during her last rotation in school. This kicked off an industry-focused career, leading to a series of industry jobs culminating in becoming CooperVision’s Vice President of Clinical & Professional Affairs.
During this time, Dr. Iravani developed the mobile app “EyeXam,” a self guided app that lets patients perform basic vision screening tests and helps them find nearby optometrists using geo-location. EyeXam was rated as the second-most downloaded app in iTunes’ medical category, and still remains the eye care industry’s leading mobile app. EyeXam was also featured on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. Due to the app’s popularity and Dr. I’s entrepreneurial spirit, the first brick-and-mortar location of eyeXam was born.
Walking into eyeXam is more like stepping into an Apple store than it is a clinic. With large, flat tabletops displaying frames through lustrous glass, bold highlights of yellow in the decorating scheme, and tablets everywhere you look, the show floor draws you in to experience eye care on an interactive level right away. Notably absent are an abundance of chairs or a waiting room; this is by design, to encourage patients and customers to explore and interact instead of flipping through ragged and outdated magazines. Tablets featuring proprietary apps are anchored on the tabletop frame displays, where patients can check-in, take a selfie while trying on frames, and more.
In one corner is the eyeBar, featuring the best eye and skin care products and high-end makeup, as well as color contact lenses and eyelash treatments. Another corner features the visionBar, offering multiple interactive vision screening tests and apps, including the eponymous EyeXam app. “Today’s consumers and patients are drawn to new and engaging experiences,” says Dr. Iravani. “Why not make the visit to the optometrist unique and refreshing? Our interactive environment really captures everyone’s attention.”
Overall, the clinic is an eyecare branding powerhouse. The name “eyeXam” alludes to offering optometry services, but a hint of mystery separates it from others that might be called “Smith Family Optometry.” Even the exam rooms are branded, with the three lanes being named “Cornea,” “Iris,” and “Retina.” The practice staff also have fun titles that break out of the old molds. “Cosmetometrists” are not only opticians, but also makeup and cosmetics consultants. “Optitechs” advise the best design of glasses for patients based on their facial structure, and also perform technician duties.
As a modern practice surrounded by tech giants, eyeXam also focuses on medical optometry, and is equipped with the latest gadgets such as an OCT and fundus camera. The doctors have a special interest in managing dry eye and fitting specialty contact lenses, so the practice also utilizes advanced clinical equipment such as the lipiscan and lipiflow. Inside and out, it is clear that every detail has been carefully curated, and that technology, fashion, and effective marketing create the flair of a truly modern optometry practice.
The Benefits of a Young OD to a Modern Practice
Running a contemporary clinic isn’t without its challenges. This is great news for newer ODs, who are able to capitalize on cutting-edge skills, a knack for technology, and youthful energy. While Dr. Iravani has decades of experience to draw from, she specifically sought out a young optometrist when looking to hire an associate doctor — despite knowing many seasoned and highly experienced colleagues also looking for work. “It is not only my observation, but rather a known fact in our profession that recent grads’ training is much more advanced in many areas such as glaucoma,” she says. “I wanted to complement my industry, business, and contact lens background with a young OD’s strong medical training.”
Dr. Chris Schwartz, who graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Optometry in 2015, joined the practice because he believes in the need for optometric clinics to distinguish themselves in order to create memorable, positive experiences for patients. “Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, many of our patients are very receptive towards applying the latest advancements in eye care,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Many of them have exceptionally strenuous visual demands, and are looking for doctors that can address their unique needs. eyeXam is well positioned to fill this need by offering some of the latest in refractive and diagnostic technologies. Patients know that when they come in, they will receive top-of-the-line eye care that they will not find many other places.”
Regarding his work with Dr. I, he says, “I have found Dr. Iravani to be an invaluable source of entrepreneurial wisdom, as well as a mentor for general eye care business principles. Her extensive experience across a wide range of eyecare related fields gives her a great deal of perspective on the optometric profession as a whole.” “Dr. Schwartz is not only a great doctor, but also a great team player,” adds Dr. Iravani. “He is always motivated and enthusiastic about adopting new ideas,” which are essential to positioning eyeXam as an industry leader.
Desirable skills such as specialty contact lens fitting, medical model practice, and binocular vision are quite valuable to the modern practice, and young ODs are uniquely positioned to help these practices grow. Even skills outside of clinical care — like the ability to help a practice brand itself on social media — yields dividends to the practice owner. Drs. Iravani and Schwartz use their complementary abilities to provide a wide range of eye care, brainstorm clinical and business ideas, and create a memorable experience for patients.
The Future is Now
Leaving a lasting impression with patients and customers is a must for any successful optometry practice. eyeXam is a great example of effective marketing, patient care, and a modern customer experience, and it can help inspire practice owners to make the jump from old, outdated clinics into the brand-savvy, high-tech, patient-oriented world of the 21st century. Optometrists continue to progress in clinical scope and abilities, and as an industry, our practices need to keep up.