The online vision-testing platform Opternative has officially rechristened itself “Visibly” this week after nearly seven years of butting heads with organized optometry. The company thinks part of the bad blood stems from its former name—a portmanteau of ‘optometry’ and ‘alternative.’
“The name ‘Opternative’ really had this negative connotation in the industry and posed an existential threat to optometrists, even though we’re definitely not a replacement for optometrists in any way,” explains Steven Lee, OD, a company founder and its chief science officer.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) in particular has taken such umbrage at the company that, late last year, it issued a formal complaint with the FDA, which subsequently put the company on notice. Earlier this year, the FDA claimed the online refraction platform qualifies as “a device because it is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the body.”
A quick Google search of “Opternative” will turn up the FDA controversy, but Dr. Lee denies this influenced the rebranding. He only hopes the name swap will buck the image of a company aiming to disrupt optometry.
“We’re not definitely not a comprehensive eye exam and we’re not a replacement for optometrists. In fact, my personal take, as an optometrist: I don’t think any telemedicine technology could ever replace a doctor. The optometrist, first and foremost, is the nucleus of all patient interaction,” Dr. Lee says.
However, ODs remain skeptical of the company’s intentions, particularly after its partnerships with fellow disrupters 1-800-Contacts.
“Once a company decides it is going to work against the patients' best interests, act in defiance of an FDA cease-and-desist order and thumb its nose at a profession trying to protect patients from harm, no amount of rebranding will erase the company culture,” insists Jeffrey Sonsino, OD, chair of the Contact Lens and Cornea Section of the AOA.
Dr. Lee hopes the name change will reflect Visbly’s roll-out of more optometrist-friendly applications, such as its EZRx software that is designed for ODs to incorporate into their practices. Previously, ophthalmologists reviewed the online refractions. However, EZRx brings optometrists into the mix by associating the software with their individual offices.
“We provide great supplemental care that supplements comprehensive eye exams,” Dr. Lee explains. “We also allow doctors to connect with their patients using our technology and I think that’s important for us to push to the forefront.”
Visibly is also researching ways it can encourage patients to visit the optometrist. “Let’s say Dr. Smith has a practice and he wants to touch base with a patient who hasn’t come back into his practice for two-plus years. His patient can use the acuity screener,” Dr. Lee says. The patient won’t receive a prescription, but the doctor can use it to motivate the patient to return. “Some of the new things that we’re going to be trying to push forward in the future include different components on screening eye health, which is going to be very interesting,” he added.
Marc Taub, OD, a professor at Southern College of Optometry, speculated on the name change. “The reason seems to be to shed the awful reputation they have earned,” he says. “I applaud their effort to move forward but I will remind them that our profession is made up of some pretty smart people. We are a hard bunch to fool.”