Behind the brand

Smart design in the optical ecosystem

OT  speaks with Topcon’s vice president of global marketing and product design, John Trefethen, about providing remote access solutions and a new system for launching products

John Trefethen

How has the outbreak of COVID-19 affected Topcon and if so how did the company respond?

What we found was where our largest audience of users were impacted the most, and this was reflected in Topcon’s business. Where our largest segments were down in revenue, Topcon was down in revenue.

Though revenues took a dip because of the pandemic, especially during its peak, Topcon is very resilient and it rebounded quicky. We are seeing that primarily because of the breadth of the portfolio, and our digital phoropter and optical coherence tomography (OCT) business.

Topcon’s automated phoropter, the CV-5000, is a mainstay of the product portfolio. The device utilises a web interface to enable practices to control the phoropter from a tablet or PC. You can control it from two metres away, or two counties away. That device is already available for remote control and has been selling in record quantities because of COVID-19.

When the pandemic first arrived, we immediately started a project called the ‘Safe Distance Campaign,’ providing modifications to our existing technologies so customers could access those devices through a remote tablet or PC control. The idea behind this was to help maintain some of that distance in practice.

Topcon also created a webpage called ‘Topcon Cares,’ highlighting what the company was doing to support our customers in getting back to practice. We launched an initiative right away to give out free breath shields. We shipped around 20,000 breath shields around the world to customers and non-customers alike for their instruments – especially their slit lamps. We’ve also more recently launched a programme to provide shields for the non-contact tonometers to further protect the patient, clinician and the device. We’ve been doing this free of charge because we can, and because we are in this together.

Did the outbreak impact any plans or launches?

2020 – the year of perfect vision – was our year to launch six products into the world. Obviously, a lot has changed and, as an industry that has relied heavily on trade shows, we have had to pivot.

This autumn, Topcon Healthcare is launching an entirely new experience for receiving product and product announcements from Topcon in a virtual way. We’re launching a new global website and framework to produce virtual events, share information and engage with customers. Expert clinicians from around the world will be presenting on very relevant topics today, while Topcon will also be launching our new products to the world.

These launches include a brand new refraction system as a companion to the digital phoropter, and a new remote diagnostics services platform. We’re also launching a new business model for optometry for managing myopia and dry eye, along with several other products.

The company has recently launched Myah in Europe, and acquired Henson’s perimeter business - could you tell us what these new updates mean for the company?

Myah continues in the tradition of Topcon’s multimodal device technologies. Myah is a combination instrument, that provides the tools to support myopia management and incorporates corneal topography including keratoconus screening and pupillometry, axial length measurements by optical low coherence interferometry. The device also provides progression reports for analysing treatments, as well as a suite of dry eye tools.

Regarding the Henson acquisition, Topcon has a very broad portfolio, but the one missing piece was visual field technology. This is something that is a standard for glaucoma management. Because Topcon is very interested in combining data and providing access to that data, we were interested in how we bring visual fields and OCTs together.

The acquisition of Henson really promotes that initiative and rounds out all of the disease services that we can help with.

What makes Topcon and its products unique?

There are several core competencies that I think are what makes Topcon unique. Number one is the automation. We leverage three primary areas of technology: smart agriculture, smart infrastructure and smart healthcare. All three of those divisions share an understory and that is to help solve the bigger world challenges by accessing technology with robotics.

I think our differentiator is our device-agnostic approach. From the beginning we started making software and hardware with the ability to connect to other non-Topcon systems because we realised that some people prefer another manufacturer.

We also try to minimise the number of devices a practitioner will need, by providing multimodal technologies at a high value and low cost. I would say that customers get a lot of capabilities and technology inside of one device.

Finally, what sets Topcon apart is that it is driven by market intelligence. It’s not just engineers working in isolation. We work with the market and partner with our customers to make the devices that they want.

Could you provide a comment on how the outbreak of COVID-19 affected the sector generally?

I think COVID-19 has meant that a lot of individuals who were potentially going to retire in the future have decided to do so slightly early, which only increases the issues of having too many patients and not enough practitioners.

It has also changed workflows for a lot of optometrists. Waiting rooms are going away, at least in the short-term, as people are now waiting in their cars. The space between visits has increased. The amount of time in a day remains the same, but the number of patients practices are able to see within that time has decreased. Generally speaking, fewer patients are being seen, and some practitioners are working extended hours to get the revenue back.

One way to address this is to think about how you use ocular telehealth and teleoptometry. Worldwide, a majority of optometric graduates are women and many of those women will have to balance family life with business. By allowing the individual to maintain a practice through access to remote solutions, we can provide more work opportunities. Now they can see patients at times that really keep the flow of traffic at a peak.

What is the company’s main focus for the next 12 months?

As healthcare continues to advance, at Topcon we are inspired by these possibilities and dedicated to providing smart solutions. We’re joining in the efforts for early detection and prevention, and more proactive provider-patient relationships.

We’re going to continue to push the boundaries of technology and respond to the needs of our customers, asking ourselves how we can help make them more successful. That doesn’t always mean a Topcon device. It often means solving a bigger problem. Our focus will be continuing to innovate and drive access to the data in the devices in use today.