When it comes to purchasing ophthalmic technology, you probably think: If I purchase this new technology today, will it already be considered old tomorrow? And, if it costs $40,000 this year, will it cost $20,000 next year? So, how do you decide what technologies are worth purchasing? Ask yourself: What will benefit both my patients and my practice the most?

Here, your colleagues discuss the new technologies they feel have benefited their patients and practice: Wavefront technology, virtual tools for practice management, exam technology and in-office lab technology.

Wavefront Technology
One of the newest technological innovations is custom wavefront spectacle lenses. This technology became available in May when Ophthonix, Inc. sold its first iZon wavefront lenses. To create wavefront lenses, an aberrometer is used to map a patients refractive errors. The aberrometer then translates the patients refractive errors into a prescription that matches the patients refractive errors. A wavefront lens can then be created.

To create wavefront lenses, an aberrometer maps a patients wavefront refractive errors and translates them into a prescription.

Correcting higher-order aberrations with eyeglasses and contact lenses is definitely something optometrists should be embracing, says optometrist Gary Gerber, president of The Power Practice, a practice management consulting firm in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

Why? Because this technology can be very beneficial for your patients. In clinical double-blind studies that Ive been involved with, patients who compared a customized wavefront lens to a standard lens almost always identified the wavefront lens as the lens that offered the best vision, says optometrist Louis Catania of Jacksonville, Fla.

You may be questioning whether the improved vision that wavefront lenses can offer is really necessary or if your patients are interested in perfecting their vision. Wavefront lenses have value based on patient needs, Dr. Catania says. For example, patients who may be interested in wavefront lenses include athletes or anyone attempting to fixate quickly and accurately on a specific target. Additionally, wavefront lenses can help patients who have night-vision problems because the lenses can considerably reduce spherical aberrations, Dr. Catania says.

To help patients understand the added benefit and potential of wavefront lenses, Dr. Catania compares wavefront lenses to high-definition television and standard lenses to broadcast television. It seems like high-definition televisions are selling pretty well, he says.

In addition to helping patients see better, wavefront technologies for diagnostic use are also going to dramatically affect eye care over the coming years, Dr. Catania says. We can now assess conditions, including ocular surface problems such as dry eye and corneal abnormalities, that we could never assess before, or assess them to a greater degree. Additionally, with wavefront technologies, well be able to measure irregular astigmatism and refraction up to fifth-order aberrations and beyond, Dr. Catania says.

Wavefront technologies can boost your practice right away. If you pursue wavefront technologies early on and properly promote the services these technologies can offer, patients will likely come to see you instead of somebody else because you are more likely able to provide them with the best vision, Dr. Gerber says. So, there is a competitive advantage to buying wavefront equipment early, he says.

Wavefront technology can also be beneficial to your practice in the long-term, Dr. Catania says. An optometrist who manages a patients wavefront map from his or her youth to the time that patient becomes presbyopic is going to know how to manage that patients visual needs the best, he says. For example, such an O.D. will be able to identify what procedure or IOL is best for the patient if he or she eventually wants refractive surgery or needs a cataract extraction.

Virtual Tools for Practice Management
In addition to wavefront technologies, there are non-clinical technologies that can be beneficial to patients and help O.D.s run their practices more efficiently, says Dr. Gerber. One example is Web tools, such as www.eyecarepro.net. Dr. Gerber likes this Web-based service because it can help O.D.s easily build their own multifunctional Web site. With this technology, patients can order contact lenses, book appointments and complete history sheets.

Optometrists can easily build their own Web sites with tools such as  ww.eyecarepro.net.

What I like about this tool is that you can use other plug-in applications. For example, you can integrate an online Web scheduler with your desktop scheduler. Additionally, plug-in applications can call patients to remind them about their appointments, Dr. Gerber says. This Web site can help make your practice more efficient because it saves staff time since patients can schedule their own appointments and buy their lenses online. And the software, instead of a staff member, confirms patient appointments.

Digital frame and lens try-on and measuring tools are another technology that more optometrists should consider to help their patients and their practice. One example that Dr. Gerber recommends is www.eyeweb.com, a virtual boutique where patients can try on frames and colored contact lenses in the comfort of their own home. Web sites such as this one are not highly used by optometrists but would be highly beneficial to them because they decrease inventory costs and staff time since there is little staff involvement in the sales process, Dr. Gerber says.

Virtual boutiques, such a www.eyeweb.com, allow patients to try on frames in the comfort of their own home.

Technology can also help educate patients. The Web site www.eyemaginations.com can explain difficult concepts, such as posterior vitreous detachment, to patients, Dr. Gerber says. The software uses 3-dimensional images and voice narration. Before this technology, optometrists would have to use a physical model to explain a concept, Dr. Gerber says. This technology educates patients without unnecessarily consuming optometrists time.

Patients can learn about difficult concepts at www.eyemaginations.com, which uses 3-D images and voice narration.

Exam Technology
A corneal topographer is a worthwhile purchase for optom-etrists because it is a very accurate way to measure a patients cornea, Dr. Gerber says. A corneal topographer also helps optometrists effectively comanage patients who undergo LASIK.

According to Dr. Catania, corneal topographers are almost essential now in cornea and contact lens care and especially in the evolving science of orthokeratology. Additionally, topographers can be a good investment for O.D.s because the cost of one typically pays for itself right away. Within one month of purchasing a topographer, O.D.s typically generate more money than their monthly payment for the topographer. Most practices can more than cover the lease payments and earn a profit by using the device as little as 10 to 15 times per month. However, this money is not generated if they do not own the equipment, Dr. Gerber says.

Retinal imaging devices, such as the GDx nerve fiber analyzer (Carl Zeiss Meditec), the Heidelberg retinal tomograph (Heidelberg Engineering) and the optical coherence tomographer (Carl Zeiss Meditec), can also improve both patient care and office efficiency. These devices have improved patient care significantly because they are tools optometrists use to help them diagnose the presence or absence of glaucoma, says optometrist John Schachet, of Englewood, Colo. These instruments help you perform fast screenings, so almost all patients are able to sit through the tests. The devices can detect which patients may become full glaucoma work-ups, therefore expanding the glaucoma end of practices, Dr. Gerber says.

The Optomap (Optos) digital imaging system can provide optometrists with a view of the peripheral retina. The software can magnify the image, so optometrists can examine specific areas of the retina. The Optomap doesnt replace a dilated fundus examination, Dr. Schachet says, but an Optomap image can show optometrists what to look for in a dilated fundus exam. For patients who have diabetic retinopathy, hypertension or retinal degeneration, the Optomap can substitute for a retinal camera. The Optomap is also easy for the staff to use, Dr. Schachet says.

The Optomap provides O.D.s with a view of the peripheral retina.

Frequency Doubling Technology (FDT) perimetry (Carl Zeiss Meditec) is much faster than traditional visual field tests. Dr. Schachet uses FDT on every glaucoma suspect. He still uses the Humphrey 24-2 and 30-2 (Carl Zeiss Meditec) for a comprehensive visual field test, but he likes the FDT because testing takes only 90 seconds per eye, whereas older visual field tests take approximately four to five minutes per eye. Addition-ally, the results of the FDT are about as accurate as older visual field tests. The accuracy of the FDT and short time testing time improves our office efficiency, Dr. Schachet says.

In-Office Lab Technology
O.D.s should also consider purchasing a new in-office edger. For example, the Axcell CL-D (Briot) can edge and polish lenses and drill the holes for a 3-piece drill mount. Also, the ME-1000 (Santinelli) can perform 3-dimensional drilling and grooving, along with polish-safety beveling. O.D.s can provide better service for their patients and improve quality control since everything is done in the office. And, in-office edgers increase revenues, Dr. Gerber says.

Optometrists have many technological options available to them and many more will become available in the future. Consider that many of your patients are using the Internet and already learning about new technologies that can help them, Dr. Catania says. So, they will look for a doctor who owns such technologies. Going forward, primary optometric care is going to be defined by technology. And any practice that grows in technology is going to grow in revenues, Dr. Catania says.

Vol. No: 142:8Issue: 8/15/2005