As an optician, what exactly is our purpose?  Is it just to sell eyeglasses and contact lenses?  Is it to make those patients beautiful in their eyeglasses?  Is it to meet our sales goals and to make money for our employers?  Or is it just to make money for ourselves? (well.. that IS part of it!)  But what is actually at the HEART of what we do? 

Well… 

Beyond the everyday bustle and hype, what we really do is provide our patients with GOOD VISION, to give them back what nature has denied them.  It’s to give them their life back again.  Sounds so obvious, so simple, right? 

Tell that to our patients!  How many times have you heard: “I don’t really (never going to) wear them,” or “I don’t really need them?”

At least 1/3 of the population isn’t wearing the corrective lenses that they should, and they claim to be FINE with that.  

“Oh, I see good enough.”  “I can get by.”  I only have to wear them when I’m driving.” (or reading, sewing, watching TV, etc.)

Sadly, a sizable part of our patients are content with “good enough” and “getting by.”  They’ve accepted mediocre vision as “normal.”  They don’t care.  These are the guys (and gals) who are speeding along next to you on the highway, merging with you (perhaps cutting you off!), and tooling along suburban or country roads only seeing a fraction of what you do, but feel they are handling it just fine.  They may even be proud of themselves for having overcome their “need” of glasses.  They’re resourceful, clever.  They don’t understand that they are missing out. 

I had a patient last week with a -2.25 distance prescription.  He claimed he really didn’t need his glasses.  His reading add was a +2.00 so he could see up close, and since reading was mostly what his job entailed he felt he was “just fine.”  Oh, he did wear then when driving, but he claimed didn’t need them for the television! (He must have a REALLY big screen TV!)

Sigh… 

A few thousand years ago this man might not have survived.  In the world of our hunter/gatherer/warrior ancestors, the ability to read their environment was crucial.  You had to be able to see prey to hunt, or you went hungry.  You had to be able to see the band of horsemen sweeping down the ridge or a pirate sail on the horizon… or you might become the prey.  Good vision was POWER.  It kept you alive.  What happened to all of that?

Today most of us aren’t fighting for our food or for our lives.  We live the sort of existence our ancestors could only have dreamed of.  Perhaps we don’t really need our 20/20 vision as desperately as our distant great-great-grandfathers did, but we still need it.  We need it to live our lives to the fullest. 

And here, I believe, is the crux of the problem.  The word: NEED.  For some reason our culture places more value upon our wants than our needs.  Parents talk about their children learning the difference between wants and needs, but our kids DO know the difference.  They just choose the wants.  Almost everyone does.  We will pay for what we want, plan for it, slave for it.  We don’t like to think about our needs and they often get the shaft.

NEEDS take on a negative connotation.  We really don’t want to have to pay them much attention.  They are an impediment to our fulfilling our wants.  Perhaps we can forgo them a little or get someone else to pay for them– insurance, for instance, or the government…

That’s the way a lot of our patients view eyecare.  Many of them would never DREAM of seeing an optometrist unless they had a loss of vision significant enough to bother them.  They don’t understand preventative eyecare.  They see an eye doctor when they have to, under duress.  Eyeglasses are a necessary evil.  Wearing them is to give in and accept that you need them, and that just isn’t one of our wants.

But it should be.

The true vocation of opticianry is to help people to desire good vision. We need to convince the public that optimal visual acuity is one of our WANTS, that they are missing something very important by not seeing as well as they should.  Hey, no one wants to miss out!  If your neighbor can see really well and YOU can’t, would you like that?  Why should HE have it and YOU don’t?  Why should you miss out? 

The frame manufacturers have waged a successful war convincing those who purchase glasses that they should want a designer brand frame (even if they only wear the things when they have no choice.)  What we need to do is convince the patient that they should want the enhanced life that good vision provides.  We have to help them see (pardon the pun!) that their life will be better, fuller, if they can see everything in  it.

Think about it.  If we win this war, we won’t have any problem selling non-glare coatings and “smart design” lenses.  The public will DEMAND them!

Just the other day I was dispensing to a first time progressive patient, a patient who had only worn “readers” before. 

“Let’s test the distance,” I said to her.  “Look out into the store.  How’s the vision?”

The patient narrowed her eyes to a frown and shook herself slightly.  “Is that real?” she asked. 

“Is it clear?” I prompted, unsure of her problem. 

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I mean, I can see that guy WAY down there! Is that the way it’s supposed to be?”

I saw my chance and I took it.  “YES!” I affirmed in what I hoped was an encouraging voice.  “That’s the way normal vision is.  That’s 20/20.”

“Hunh..” she mused, shaking her head again as she put the glasses into their case.  “Just curious if it was real.”

Sadly, some battles take time. 

But… Lest you think, unhappily, that this was a total lost cause, my patient came back a couple of weeks later.  She really didn’t like her progressives, but, she really liked her new distance vision! We replaced her progressives with distance glasses and a separate pair of readers.  No, she didn’t go for the high tech options we opticians love to dispense, but she can see better, live better.  Hey!  I’ll take any victory I can get!