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Catering for a new optometric era

Trends already shaping modern optometry were set on an even steeper trajectory with the advent of COVID-19. MS HILKE FITZSIMONS explains why Zeiss Vision Care’s future-focused products are well-positioned to support optometry during its next evolution.

When the brightest minds within Zeiss’s research and development unit begin formulating their blueprints for their latest advances in ophthalmic lens and instrument technology, they think in terms of megatrends.

Digitisation, changing demographics, globalisation and greater consumer health awareness are among the key factors underpinning the company’s next-generation products to drive greater value for practices and patients.

Ms Hilke Fitzsimons is the general manager of Carl Zeiss Vision Care’s Australia and New Zealand operations, based in Adelaide. She says innovation is so important to the company that it devotes more than 10% of its annual turnover to research and development. In 2019/20, R&D expenses amounted to around AU$1.3 billion.

Zeiss Vision Care ANZ general manager Hilke Fitzsimons says patients increasingly want to see how eyecare professionals connect the clinical snd retail elements within the practice. 

“Megatrends is something we have been looking at as a company globally for a number of years now,” Fitzsimons, who has an MBA from University of South Australia and Masters of Engineering from the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany), says.

“With COVID-19 in 2020, we saw some of these accelerate. Digitisation is one major example, but we’ve also seen people have a greater awareness of health issues and a willingness to invest money to protect it. Demographic changes such as the aging population aren’t accelerating as much but will continue – and with the rise of myopia we’re not sure yet what the long-term effects will be of extended time indoors.”

At the micro level, the pandemic is altering the course of optometry too. Increased screen time is creating unprecedented demands on the vision system. Meanwhile, the definition of exceptional eyecare has extended beyond the typical fundamentals of optical business to now incorporate hygiene and safety protocols.

As optometrists grapple with new pressures, Zeiss Vision Care has been rolling out a series of new products that are poised to address challenges at macro and micro levels in optometry. Among the new arrivals are a lens portfolio for a device-dependent society, contactless consultations, and an anti-fog system and lens wipe solutions. Although this could be seen as fortuitous timing, Fitzsimons says it’s no accident.

“Many of these trends were here before COVID-19 and will be here after. As a pioneer in optics the ongoing development of product is in our DNA. But because we dedicate huge resources towards products that are fundamentally well researched, the challenge for us now is improving products that were already very good to start with,” she says.

“We also need to educate people to use these tools we’ve developed – not for the sake of having something new – but for the purpose of helping them protect their eye health, see better and relieve the pressure and strain on eyes today.”

Len portfolio for always-connected adults

An example of Zeiss’s continual quest for improvement is its SmartLife lens portfolio. Launched last year in response to changing dynamic vision, it aims to support visual-multi-tasking at various distances and directions, as well as frequent gaze changes prompted by an increasing reliance on handheld devices.

Prior to SmartLife, Fitzsimons says Zeiss already enjoyed a less than 1% non-adapt rate for progressive lenses, however it’s reduced that even further with SmartLife.

“We measure non-adapts, returns and customer feedback, and we are confident we’ve got a product that works for the consumer,” she explains.

“The feedback we are getting in Australia and New Zealand has been extraordinary and some people say they feel as though they don’t have a lens on their face at all. When they switch prescription and glasses, they’ve found it very easy to get used to this lens.”

The new SmartLife portfolio is available in single vision, digital and progressive forms.

Fitzsimons believes the SmartLife portfolio – available in single vision, digital and progressive – sets a global standard that should be recognised as a single solution for “always-connected adults”. The technology underpinning it includes changed lens periphery for smoother, clearer vision for frequent changes of head and eye posture driven by the way people interact with devices.

Although it wasn’t ideal launching during the national lockdown in April 2020, its arrival was timely with a Zeiss survey demonstrating half of Australians experienced negative impacts to their eyesight due to rapidly changing lifestyles in 2020. Additionally, 30% reported tired eyes at the end of the day.

“This is not a COVID lens, this is a lens for a lifestyle that we live today,” she says.

“We are so reliant on our digital devices for everything we do now; not just smartphones but watches and tablets. Part of the reason why people are reporting eye strain is because they are switching between the near, immediate and distance so often, with 21% of people surveyed having trouble focusing.”

Contactless consultations

Although originally designed to provide an enhanced patient experience and more efficient consultation process, Zeiss’s Visuconsult 500 has brought an added benefit in the COVID-19 era.

The software’s core features involve capturing data from the practice’s subjective and objective refractive devices before automatically linking them to the specific patient visit, displaying them on a single screen. This removes the need for manually entering measurements from each testing instrument, helping to also eliminate transcription errors.

But in the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, Fitzsimons says consumers have come to expect digitalised, contactless solutions. The software addresses this on all fronts.

Zeiss’s Visuconsult 500 facilitates contactless consultations in the COVID-19 era.

“The Visuconsult 500 allows the eyecare professional to create more physical space between them and the patient,” she explains.

“It’s also a more pleasant experience because the patient can view data from the machines on the iPad. Here, you can show them what it means to use inscription technology with the precision of one hundredth of a diopter, and what comes out of a comprehensive eye exam. Rather than spending time operating machines and entering data, it becomes a more personalised experience, because you’ve freed up time to interact with the patients.”

The software also provides interactive experiences with demonstrations showing patients how the spectacles fit on their face and the different effects of the lens options.

3D centration captured in single shot 

A key piece of new Zeiss hardware that integrates with its contactless consultation software is the Visufit 1000, released in Australia last year.

The futuristic-looking instrument digitally determines 3D centration data and creates a 180-degree view of the patient’s face and the frames using nine cameras and 45 million points.

According to Fitzsimons, there’s no need to place a jig or calibration clip on the frame and patients don’t need to turn their head into different positions. The data is captured in a single shot, while maintaining distance between the patient and eyecare professional.

“The centration is collected and can be viewed on the Visuconsult 500, which creates an avatar – it’s essentially a digital head that can spin around, and the patient can look at an image of themselves with different frames, how it fits to their head in real time,” she says.

“But more importantly the eyecare professional gets all the important information from the centration whether it be heights, pupillary distance, back vertex distance, and then they can ensure the lenses are tailored to the patient’s face shape, posture and frames style.”

Connecting with patients 

Demand for anti-fog and hygiene lens solutions has also risen in correlation with mask wearing and a general awareness of transmitting viral/bacterial material on to spectacles amid COVID-19.

Fitzsimons says Zeiss moved to address this by launching its AntiFOG Kit – updated from an older product and incorporating newer technology – and pre-moistened Lens Wipes.

Zeiss AntiFOG Kit.

A key feature of the antifog kit is its dual cloth and spray, which combine to create a thin hydrophilic film on either side of the lens that can stay fog-free for three days.

“It prevents water droplets on your glasses from accumulating on the lens surface which causes the fogging, and the film then ensures your visual clarity is not impaired,” Fitzsimons says.

With its existing lens wipes, Zeiss adapted the packaging into various sizes to accommodate different patient requirements, and has included two packets with new spectacles holding Zeiss lenses.

“Australian optometrists have found these products combined are a great way for them to connect with their consumers. It takes minimal store space and creates the potential for repeat business. Our sales of these options has risen significantly in the last six months in Australia and worldwide,” Fitzsimons adds.

21st century optometry 

Looking ahead, Fitzsimons believes modern optometry’s largest challenge is the pursuit of a customer journey that seamlessly connects the clinical and retail elements. Providing exceptional eyecare with a point of difference begins with the testing performed, interaction with patients and the practice’s presentation as a safe and professional environment. She believes Zeiss’s latest innovations are working to bridge this gap.

“It can’t be: ‘Here’s the clinical corner and here’s the retail corner’; you need to connect the two because the patient wants to see how the clinical side transfers to the retail side,” she explains.

“It’s about connectivity, data and professionalism, so the patient can see what options they have. Having qualified staff that perform the centration professionally, give the consumer choice without overburdening them, educating them, and maybe telling stories about the journey they’ve had and the product they’ve selected. I think these are some key successful points in optometry today.”