It’s a familiar refrain, and you’ve likely felt it too. What’s striking about this quote isn’t the message, it’s the vintage. That article appeared in 1930. Yes, optometry has been swooning over the much-vaunted dental model of practice at least since Herbert Hoover was president.
Our depression-era author was quick to stress that he wasn’t motivated by self-interest. “Keep in mind, please, that I am not complaining of lack of practice on my own account,” he wrote. “I am commenting on the common heedlessness of the public in regard to its eyes, the most useful and the most blessed part of the human anatomy.” In other words, the template for today’s Think About Your Eyes public education campaign was written on a Remington typewriter while Louis Armstrong played on the radio.
I was thinking about the long history of this sentiment during a press briefing from Essilor at Vision Expo. The company’s execs mentioned that “giving vision a louder voice” in the public discourse will be a top priority as they integrate with Luxottica and become the biggest conduit to the consumer in eye care. Essilor and others have long been supporters of Think About Your Eyes. Alcon recently pledged to give $5 to the program for every annual supply of its daily or monthly contact lenses purchased, to encourage healthy wear schedules and support the campaign’s public advocacy goals.
Sure, these corporate efforts benefit the bottom lines of manufacturers, but they also help people modify their lifestyles in ways that promote health and wellness—a too-rare confluence of capitalism and altruism.
But it’s been a long road. “The public acts in some ways as if it doesn’t care a continental about its eyesight,” our 1930 author wrote. (If you’re unfamiliar with old slang, care a continental = give a damn.) After literally decades of frustration, we’re finally seeing results. The Vision Council says Think About Your Eyes generated 1.15 million eye exams in 2016, a 38% increase over 2015. Even better: exam cycles shortened from 24 to 14 months. That’s solid progress. But there’s more work to do if your practice is still less popular than one where someone puts a drill in the patient’s mouth.
At each visit and in your marketing, stress that routine care allows disease prevention, makes early treatment possible, and helps people feel and see better. With industry support reaching mass audiences and ODs personalizing the message in their communities, public attitudes can change for the better. Even if it sometimes feels like pulling teeth.