State of Vision Care 2021
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Vision care is healthcare, but is it healthcare?
That depends. Public debates regularly focus on issues of general health while overlooking or outright ignoring the vision care that remains an essential part of a healthy life.
Despite the lack of mainstream attention, the vision care world has experienced many of the same disruptions that have affected the wider medical world — and a few disruptions all its own. However, the vision care industry remains an old-school one. Most vision care providers and recipients still imagine services taking place in traditional offices, even though digital transformation has allowed the industry to become more decentralized.
Progress toward full transformation has been inconsistent. The vision care industry suffers the same problems of lobbying, outdated consumer impressions, and tool adoption as most other industries. That said, momentum is growing. People are beginning to recognize they have more options than they previously believed. The pandemic encouraged more people to explore new avenues for vision care they previously would not have considered. As a result, the industry leaped forward in a few short months.
This report is the result of our research to set the new baseline for the vision care industry. With so many new factors in play, we wanted to understand how people today perceive the vision care industry, how aware they are of their options, and how they perceive the practices and professionals who help them. We hope this research helps individuals, businesses, and providers make more informed vision care decisions.
This survey was conducted by Lensabl on March 8, 2021. All survey participants are US consumers who have prescriptions for vision aids. Participants who were not in the US or who did not have a prescription for a vision aid were not eligible to have their responses included.
Here are a few of the most interesting results from our research:
- More than half of respondents said they see an eye doctor at least once per year.
- Fifty-eight percent of respondents postponed at least one appointment with an eye doctor last year because of Covid-19.
- Nearly one-third of those who canceled have not rescheduled their appointments.
- People generally feel good about the cost-to-value ratio of their eye doctor appointments, but 27.6% believe they should be getting more for their money.
- People trust eye doctors more than dentists by a wide margin but slightly less than general practice doctors.
- Nearly 50% of respondents did not know they could get a prescription online without visiting an eye doctor.
Overall, our research painted a picture of vision care patients who are committed to their care but who would like to see some improvements. People will continue to visit doctors in person, but online exams will become more common as patients grow more comfortable using technology.
Let’s take a closer look at the data to gain a clearer understanding of today’s vision care industry and the patients it serves.
Profile of a Patient
What best describes your annual household income?
Every respondent in this survey met basic requirements of US residency and a recurring need for vision care. But what else do we know about our respondents?
Comparing Survey Demographics With the Population
Income ranges in this study accurately reflect the general population within the US. Our study found 31.3% of respondents making more than $100,000 per year. The US median household income in 2020 was $78,500, and most sources show about a third of American households maintaining a household income of at least six figures.
What best describes your ethnicity?
Again, we see a good reflection of the general population regarding respondent ethnicity. Our results had a slightly higher number of representatives say they were white (69.8%) than the general population (about 61%).
How many pairs of glasses with prescription lenses do you currently wear regularly?
How Many Pairs Does the Average Person Wear?
For most people, glasses are a necessity first and an accessory second. Respondents overwhelmingly have either one pair of glasses or two pairs in rotation. Only 21.8% of respondents claimed they wear three or more pairs of glasses regularly.
Typically, how often do you see an eye doctor in-person?
Frequency of Eye Doctor Visits
For most people, once per year is plenty. However, a third of respondents say they only visit once every two years, which could be a reflection of the vision care insurance they have. Some policies only cover a new pair of glasses every two years, for example.
Who Are the People Being Studied?
We may not know what they like to watch on Netflix through their lenses, but we have a good picture of the type of person participating in our survey. These people are generally committed to keeping their prescriptions up to date, and they wear at least one pair of glasses regularly. Overall, the survey demographics provide an accurate portrait of the American population. Given this information, we can confidently extrapolate the information in this study to the general population with regard to preferences and knowledge about vision care.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Vision Care
Due to COVID-19, did you lose your job and as a result, lose your vision insurance benefits?
No industry in the world escaped the forced change of Covid-19 in 2020. Vision care suffered as well, with many clinics closing their doors and many patients losing their coverage. With most Americans getting health care and vision care through their employers, the waves of unemployment created ripple effects related to the care they received last year. Fortunately, that tide has begun to turn.
How Many People Lost Coverage During Covid-19?
While 16% of respondents lost their job and vision benefits due to Covid-19, an additional 11.6% said they were not employed over the last year and did not have benefits to lose. That number is significantly higher than the general unemployment numbers of non-pandemic times, indicating that people not only lost jobs but had difficulty finding new ones. About half of respondents were unaffected, but 14.9% were employed without vision care benefits.
Over the past year, did COVID-19 cause you to postpone seeing an eye doctor in-person?
[If yes] What specifically made you postpone your regular in-person eye doctor visit?
How Did Covid-19 Affect Appointments?
Unsurprisingly, people delayed going to the doctor because of Covid-19. These numbers are not only due to clinics closing and patient concerns about safety, however. If more people were aware of nontraditional options for eye exams, they may not have needed to postpone at all.
For the overwhelming majority, personal safety or simple inaccessibility created the need for postponement. Others felt the financial pressure of the pandemic and were unable to afford the care they needed. Across the board, the pandemic played a major role in decisions to alter appointments.
How long was this regular in-person eye doctor appointment postponed for?
Thanks in part to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, nearly a third of respondents still have not scheduled a new vision exam. Others rescheduled in sections throughout the year based on the availability of their doctors and their own comfort levels or financial situations.
Dealing With a Health Crisis Created Vision Care Sacrifices
People who wanted vision care were not able to get the care they wanted at the times they wanted last year. While vision care is far from the only industry where this is true, these numbers could have been much lower if more people were aware of options beyond traditional optometrist offices. As job markets pick up again and vision care providers explore new avenues of care, people seeking vision care will have more options in 2021.
Experiences and Impressions in Vision Care
Generally speaking, what best describes your previous interactions with eye doctors?
In terms of having your best interests in mind, who do you trust more?
Vision care, like all forms of health care, depends on the trust between the doctor and patient. Without a foundation of trust, patients are either uneasy about their visits or they avoid visiting at all.
Fortunately, our research found that people generally view vision care providers as trustworthy individuals. Some respondents indicated they would prefer to get more value from their visits, which could indicate an opportunity in the vision care market for new offerings.
Sentiment and Eye Doctors
Only 3.8% of respondents said they had negative experiences in previous interactions with eye doctors, and the vast majority described previous experiences as positive or very positive. Eye doctors across the board seem to be providing excellent care, which is great news for the vision care industry on the whole.
In terms of having your best interests in mind, who do you trust more?
In terms of having your best interests in mind, who do you trust more?
Eye doctors more than doubled dentists in terms of trustworthiness in our study. With fewer opportunities for major medical procedures in vision care compared to dentistry (especially considering the rates at which those procedures are performed), these numbers are unsurprising.
Speaking of unsurprising, respondents were about four times more likely to say an eye doctor had their best interests in mind over a lawyer. Had these numbers been reversed, they would have called the reputation of the vision care industry into serious question.
Compared to general practice doctors, eye doctors now come out slightly behind. People visit their general practice doctors more often than their eye doctors in most cases, which gives general practice doctors an edge. However, the strong performance from eye doctors here indicates the limited contact patients receive generally leaves a good impression.
When thinking about the cost of eye exams with doctors, how do you feel about the prices you pay?
In terms of the price you pay for prescription vision products, what best describes your feelings?
Do Patients Get Their Money’s Worth?
Responses to payment questions provided a wide range of responses. Most people are happy with prices for eye exams, with only about one-third of respondents feeling anything but positively about the prices they pay. That said, a third of people looking for a better value indicates a large market with unmet expectations.
Responses were similar for prescription vision products, although more people felt they should be getting more for their money. Prescription glasses have commonly been called out for their expense. As more people watch their wallets in the wake of the pandemic, value shoppers may be more diligent about stretching the money they spend.
The Intersection of Trust and Value
Our research found that most people trust their eye doctors and believe they have patients’ best interests at heart. We also discovered that most people are comfortable with the prices they pay, but a strong contingent would like to get more value from the services and prescription products they buy. For the vision care industry, these results should indicate trust in the industry as a whole but should not encourage complacency.
The Future of Vision Care
Do you believe it’s possible to get prescriptions or glasses/contact lenses online without seeing an eye doctor in-person?
Looking back at the last year, most people were more concerned about respiratory health than vision health. Now, that conversation is changing. People are returning to their vision care needs and looking for new and better ways to have those needs met.
In this final section, we not only report on the findings of our research but close out with some actionable tips for players in the vision care industry to better meet the needs of patients and providers.
Do Patients Understand Their Vision Care Options?
To begin, just under half of patients do not believe it’s possible to get a vision prescription without an in-person visit. Those patients are incorrect. This data indicates the vision care industry has a long way to go to communicate with patients about their options for care.
[If yes} Have you ever renewed a prescription online before without seeing a doctor in-person?
[If yes} How did renewing it online compare to previous in-person exams?
Most of those who know about the option to renew online have done so. Given this data, it’s appropriate to assume that increasing knowledge about online vision care options would result in substantial growth for use of those options.
Those who took online renewal exams often reported a better experience, although most respondents said they had similar experiences or did not know how they felt. This data could indicate that patients are comfortable. However, it could also indicate that online vision care providers need to do more to ensure patients feel confident in saying their online experiences are as good or better than in-person visits.
Do you plan on getting a new glasses or contact lens prescription this year?
With mixed results on understanding the options and a slight skew toward the positive related to online experiences, vision care providers should take note of this stat. We found nearly two-thirds of people plan to get a new prescription this year. With a likely spike in renewals in 2021, thanks to postponements from Covid-19, vision care providers need to be ready to meet new needs.
Where Does the Vision Care Industry Go Next?
What does this research mean for the vision care industry today?
First, patients are under-informed. Second, eye doctors have a good reputation on the whole. Third, experiences are good, but they could be better. Given this information, companies in the vision care industry should prepare for 2021 and beyond in a few ways:
- Focus more on patient education. Patients need to know about their options for care. Vision care companies must do more to inform patients on their options, educate them on what’s available online, and prepare to answer new kinds of questions as they relate to distanced care.
- Adapt to new demands for distributed care. Patients who try online exams typically report positive experiences, which means they will return to those experiences in the future. As more patients become informed of their options, vision care providers must be ready to meet those needs in new ways.
- Create more value for money spent. Many of the respondents in our survey said they wished they got more value from both eye exams and from their prescription products. Features like blue light blocking have grown more popular, and other options will continue to drive demand from patients. To increase the value of exams, vision care providers should take a more consultative approach to partner with patients and help them understand the options available to them for care and style.
Where does the vision care industry go from here? Forward — and quickly. Technology, digital transformation, and pandemic-fueled necessity have begun to show patients new ways to receive care. As word spreads and services rise to meet new demands, vision care providers will find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Stay adaptable, put patients first, and provide value in both services and products to stand out in the post-pandemic vision care world.