Hi there, could you tell us a little about where the initial idea for Opternative came from?
Opternative is the most convenient way to get a prescription for glasses and contacts online. The Opternative online eye exam can be taken anywhere, anytime, to get a physician-approved prescription within 24 hours. We’re a patient focused company driven by consumers’ desire for choice and convenience.
In 2012, my co-founder Dr. Steve Lee, a practicing optometrist, came up with the initial idea for an online eye exam. Having completed over 20,000 refractive eye exams, a patient of Steve’s asked him “Why can’t we do this online?” Shortly after that, Steve and I met at a party that we weren’t originally planning on attending. It was fate! We began discussing the concept of convenient online eye exams and had a ‘eureka’ moment, realizing that we could make this idea a reality. Today, Opternative has 29 employees and is headquartered in Chicago.
How exactly does Opternative work?
Opternative is extremely easy to use and can be taken from anywhere. Your exam takes about 20 minutes, and all you need is a computer and a smartphone. Your smartphone operates like a remote control, and your computer screen works like a digital eye chart, similar to what you’d see at your doctor's office. Patient responses to prompts on the smartphone will adjust images on the computer screen to test how well you see. A series of simple audio instructions guide the patient throughout the exam. Once your exam is complete, your results and medical history are reviewed by an ophthalmologist. If the doctor deems appropriate, they will issue and dispense a vision prescription to you within 24 hours. You can use your prescription at any online or neighborhood optical retailer.
What are Opternative's plans for the future?
Our goal is to help the world see and feel better by giving eye care access to the growing underserved population. Opternative will create the new standard of care in which eye care is delivered. Over the next few years, Opternative will expand services internationally and reduce age limitations of patients. Not only will our innovation give billions of people affordable eye care, but it can also be a catalyst for telehealth adoption across the entire healthcare industry.
Opternative has been picking up a lot of attention in the press with features in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, to name but a few. At what point did you realize you were onto something special with Opternative?
Being a glasses and contacts wearer my whole life, I immediately saw the need for Opternative when I met my co-founder, Steve. The optometry industry has been up in arms, fighting our innovation and increased access for patients. A year before we even launched, when Opternative only had four employees, optometrist interest groups lobbied pass legislative bills to ban or restrict our technology. This aggressive action to block our technology propelled us into the same arena as disruptive giants like Uber and AirBnB. It was this point that I knew Opternative’s mission and technology were even more special than I imagined.
Where do you see the future of digital health technology, and how do you think digital technology will improve healthcare provision in a wider sense?
Telemedicine is the future, and the future is here. With the explosion of internet, computers, and smartphones, telehealth options become more prevalent with each passing day. Opternative is an example of what the future of healthcare can be when we utilize technology; when you marry the strength of computers, algorithms, and doctors together offering patients accessible, affordable, and quality care. Allowing doctors to do what they do best and technology to do what it does best, ultimately leads to a better patient experience. The Opternative model can be applied in all areas of healthcare.
The opportunity for the “Digital Health Revolution” is possible if we remove the barriers that are blocking an open free market for healthcare technology. There is telehealth coverage in 75% of employers in the United States, but utilization is low. As regulatory barriers come down, we will see more companies offering a variety of Uber-like healthcare services to significant patient populations. Governments should embrace innovative technologies that improve people’s lives, rather than fight against progress.