Dundonald optometrist Rosemary McWatters describes her optomap journey so far, and how a week-long trial of the Daytona plus saw over 90 customers come through the door, resulting in the best month for business since opening its doors in 2012.
Rosemary McWatters is the owner and sole optometrist at Rosemary McWatters Opticians in Dundonald, a suburb of Belfast.
An optometrist for 27 years, Rosemary opened her eponymous practice six years ago and describes it as offering a personal service with quality products. “A standard appointment ranges from 45 minutes to an hour, so we really take the time to offer patients something that is different from the multiple experience,” she explained.
In April 2018, Rosemary attended Optrafair with the single aim of buying a new handheld tonometer. What she returned with was quite different. “This is a bit of a joke with my patients,” she explained. “I show them the tonometer and explain that’s what I was meant to buy, and then point to the Daytona plus and tell them that’s what I came home with. It was only a trial at first, but still – it was slightly more than I thought I’d pick up,” she shared.
Rosemary had all but written off optomap as something she would ever have in her practice. “I had read about it on the Optix Software forum and seen the Optos stand at various conferences, but I always thought it was completely outside of my reach. It was something that I would really like for Christmas, but knew Santa wasn’t bringing it,” she said.
She also had reservations about how it would work in her business. “My biggest concern was, could I afford it? I am a one-person practice and thought I would need at least three optometrists to make it work, which I didn’t have. I also wondered how many patients would I need to make it work,” she explained.
Despite her concerns, Rosemary decided to visit the Optos stand to find out more about the 200o single capture digital image of the retina. “I was just curious as I’d heard so much about it, even though I was pretty sure it wasn’t an option for me” she said. However, what she found was quite different.
“I learned that everyone could be imaged, not just adults and older children, as I’d been limited to with standard fundus photography,” she explained. “I now understood just what the system offered – I’ve been looking at my patients’ eyes for six years, but not properly, just 15% of the retina. With ultra-widefield I could offer so much more reassurance, the value of which you cannot overestimate.”
“I had read about it on the Optix Software forum and seen the Optos stand at various conferences, but I always thought it was completely outside of my reach. It was something that I would really like for Christmas, but knew Santa wasn’t bringing it”
Rosemary also learned that, even though her practice is small, it actually fitted the business profile Optos recommended for the system. “It started to become more realistic after I had discounted it for so long. Being able to really communicate these images to patients with the software and 3D wrap function, and show them pictures that largely speak for themselves, which you can’t do with optical coherence tonometry, is what drew me to optomap,” she said.
Testing the water
Rosemary took the decision to have a week-long trial of a Daytona plus in June. She emailed all of her customers to let them know that the device would be in the practice and invited them for a 15-minute optomap appointment at a discounted price. “I wasn’t sure how many patients would take up the offer, but the only way I was going to know is if I tested it,” she explained.
What happened was a complete surprise. The practice had 90 patients through the door in five days, 11 of which were brand new after hearing about the trial from friends and family. It was the best month for the business in the six years it had been open.
A week of discovery
The five days trialling the Daytona plus gave Rosemary what she calls “an intensive training course” in optomap, which she feels was hugely beneficial. “I had an Optos sales rep with me the whole time during the trial. The training they gave me meant I was confident interpreting the optomap images and discussing the results with patients. I also learned how to talk to patients about what I was seeing in a natural and integrated way, and realised that it wasn’t one big sales pitch, which I had been concerned about,” she shared.
Rosemary explained: “All of the exams came back with clear results – I call it our ‘week of reassurance’. One gentleman had fallen the week before he came, so we gave his daughter his optomap image to take the hospital with them. They couldn’t believe it when we told them the hospitals didn’t have this technology, and we did.”
After the trial, Rosemary decided to conduct a survey of patients to garner feedback of their experience and to see if they would recommend it to others. “100% yes was the respond. And they also said that the reason they would be willing to pay extra for the exam was because they valued their eye health. That’s when I realised it had the potential to build and grow the business, and decided to buy the device,” she explained.
“I wasn’t sure how many patients would take up the offer, but the only way I was going to know is if I tested it”
Here to stay
After just over a week, Rosemary’s own Daytona plus arrived, and she has now had it now for almost two months.
On training, Rosemary shared: “After imaging 90 patients during the trial, I felt confident in using the device straight away and didn’t need much support, but I knew it was on offer. There’s a lot still to learn. I tune into Optos lectures and webinars online, which you can watch again if you need to. Plus, the Optix Software forum is great – if I have an image I’m not sure about I share it on there and get positive responses back. The patients really like that when I tell them.”
Rosemary reports that uptake has been even better than she’d hoped. The practice is initially charging £20 for NHS patients to add it to their eye exams and it is now a standard in private eye exams. “I put up the cost of the private test fee to cover it and nobody complained, everyone was happy to pay it – I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Rosemary has sent information about the Daytona plus to all of her patients and asks everyone to opt-in or out of the exam when they come in for an appointment. “Nicola, my receptionist, has really bought into it and is great at helping patients decide. She is quite matter of fact about it, they either take it or not, no problem. This makes me feel better about not ‘selling’ it.”
Advertising in the local paper and targeting local groups, such as sports teams, are just two ways that Rosemary plans to get the word out about her new offering. “I put a story in the local paper featuring a picture of a well-known 96-year-old from the area being imaged, which resulted in several enquiries,” she said.
“After imaging 90 patients during the trial, I felt confident in using the device straight away and didn’t need much support, but I knew it was on offer”
Reflecting on the past, looking to the future
After having the Daytona plus for two months, how does Rosemary feel it has gone? “It hasn’t gone the way I thought it would. The trial was a complete surprise. I thought I would crash and burn, I didn’t. I was scared about committing, but it still felt the right thing to do. I didn’t anticipate how much I would appreciate my patients listening to me and trusting what I was telling and showing them – it’s giving them reassurance that I couldn’t offer before. I also don’t see its only purpose as having to pay for itself, which is really unexpected. That’s the aim, of course, but it’s more important that people are coming to me because of it. It marks us out as different,” she said.
“From a personal point of view, having the Optos system has given me a renewed buzz. I’m really enjoying the whole side of explaining images to patients and them responding to that, but also to my enthusiasm. They see that I’m really enjoying what I’m doing, and they appreciate that,” Rosemary added.
As for words of advice to anyone considering optomap, Rosemary advised: “Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume you can or can’t afford it. Or that it isn’t going to suit your business. Don’t assume patients will or won’t go for it. I had to explore it for myself and make sure it was the right thing for me and it has been a fascinating journey so far, with lots of exciting times ahead.”