Happy Spring! As the weather begins to warm up, many of us can’t wait to head outside with our families and get some much needed outdoor time. Spring sports also start to pick up, and the sounds of baseball games, tennis matches and outdoor play fills the air.
April is also a great time to start thinking about sports and athletes in our practices, and what conversations we should be having with these patients in our exam rooms. April is Sports Eye Safety Month, and it is a great time to remind our patients and their families about the risk of eye injuries and how best to prevent them. According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 25,000 individuals seek treatment for eye injuries each year. Of these injuries, more than 90 percent could be prevented with proper sports and safety eyewear. The Vision Council Sports Eye Safety Report shows that eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children, and most eye injuries among kids aged 11-14 occur while playing sports. Nearly 43 percent of sports- related eye injuries involve children under the age of 15, and boys between 11-15 are up to five times more likely to sustain eye injuries requiring hospital treatment than girls the same age.
With the focus on protection and safety, it is still baffling to me that there are more requirements for mouth and shin guards than there are for eyewear. Eye protection is a must for ALL athletes of all ages, including those with no prescriptions and those that wear contact lenses. While I encourage all patients who are physically active to wear proper sports eyewear, I get questions from my colleagues about the best way to do this.
- Ask good questions. Spending a few minutes finding out what sports and hobbies a patient has makes it easy to talk about the specific ways sports eyewear can enhance performance and provide protection. Most often a patient doesn’t even know they need to wear correction when they are playing a sport!
- Team approach is key. Just like an athlete is part of a team- each member of my practice team plays a role in prescribing sports eyewear. My front desk team asks patients to bring all eyewear to their appointment, including eyewear for sports. My technicians and scribes as questions about sports and hobbies, and find out what the patient is wearing (or not wearing!) for each of these. My opticians are well-versed in the eyewear we have in our office and are ready to make recommendations for each patient. This makes it easier and less time-consuming for me to prescribe eyewear to the patient for the sport needs they may have.
- Be up to date! Do you know the difference between ASTM F803-19 and ASTM F3164-19? Does your optical staff know there are different standards for eye protection for different sports? Knowing the standards and regulations (which are always being updated!) is extremely important. Different sports have different rules, and making sure your team is updated on the latest published standards is extremely important. You also need to be certain the eyewear and lenses have been independently tested by an outside, third party independent laboratory (there will be a label if so).
- Be all in. Showcase your commitment to sports safety and protection in all spaces and areas of your office. Use your website, newsletters and email blasts to talk about what your practice does to keep athletes safe and the knowledge your team has. If you don’t currently have sports eyewear in your practice, make an investment to have a complete line of the latest, independently tested eyewear- and display it prominently! This is not the time to have it in a box or a drawer and bring it out as needed. Just like any other frame line- feature it on your frame board. Encourage your opticians to talk about sports eyewear to every patient and let them know how educated and well-versed they are in the specific sports and standards.
- Stay connected. As someone who has a background and specialty in sports vision, I am committed to keeping my patients protected and increasing awareness of sports safety. There are great resources available that make it easier to staying updated and in the loop. Many local, regional and national meetings have sports vision courses or tracks, and there are great webinars available virtually. Groups such as the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA) are committed to furthering education and driving patients into our offices to have conversations on this topic. Protect.Prevent.Play (found on the ISVA website) is a great resource available for practitioners to use to help with this message.
- Increase revenue. We are always looking for ways to increase per patient revenue and capture rate- one of the best ways to do this is to increase the sales of sports eyewear. In most of our communities, a significant percentage of our daily patients are playing a sport or hobby that has a significant risk of injury. By providing these patients with the appropriate eyewear to decrease their risk, we are also increasing our overall revenue.
Just as we wouldn’t think of sending our children to play soccer, baseball or hockey in flip flops, we should not be sending athletes on the field, court or arena in dress eyewear. Having a conversation in the exam room with each patient to identify their specific needs and prescribing the appropriate protective eyewear is extremely important, and should be part of every patient encounter we have.
Yours in success-
Jennifer L. Stewart, OD