Covering the bases: How to start a sports vision practice

October 9, 2018
Interested in starting a sports-vision practice? Here's your pitch.

Excerpted from page 14 of the September 2018 edition of AOA Focus.

Doctors of optometry who manage sports-vision practices are often asked this one question: Where do you start? All-star doctors share their advice.

Wait for your pitch

Doctors of optometry should first do their homework, experts say.

"What needs are in your area?" asks Fraser Horn, O.D., a member of the AOA's Sports and Performance Vision (SPV) Committee, associate dean of academic programs at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Oregon, and consultant for amateur and professional sports teams.

"If there is a sport or athletic activity that is popular in your area, get to know more about that sport and those involved. Do your homework on what opportunities may be in your own backyard."

Amanda Nanasy, O.D., chair of the SPV Committee and team doctor of optometry for the NFL's Miami Dolphins and the University of Central Florida Knights, agrees.

"The sport you offer services in at ­first could be one that many of your everyday patients participate in, such as golf or tennis," she says. "You also might want to consider offering community-based eye care with teams at your local high school, Little Leagues or intramural teams. Not all schools have an athletic trainer, and doctors of optometry can help educate these athletes about the value of comprehensive eye exams or the symptoms of sustaining concussions in competition. You don't have to work with professional or even collegiate teams to have a very strong sports-vision presence in your community. These are all great opportunities to get some experience under your belt as well as really make a difference."

Know the ground rules

Analyze the visual demands of a sport, which can vary by the game. For instance, the athletic demands in golf are different than they are for motocross.

"This is not limited to visual acuity and contrast, but how vision integrates within neural processing, decision-making and vision-led movement-eye-hand reaction time, for example," Dr. Horn says.

Also consider how you communicate with athletes. For instance, never use the word "fail." Rather, Dr. Horn says, it's best for doctors of optometry to say, "you've discovered an opportunity" to improve their visual skills, which may potentially enhance their athletic performance.

"This may seem silly, but the confidence of athletes is critical for their performance, and we can help them maintain their confidence by how we communicate with them," he says.

And when athletes ask about their mechanics, Dr. Horn says, "don't be afraid to defer to their coaches."

Back up your advertising

Before you even start marketing your sports-vision services, Dr. Horn says, make sure you can deliver on those services.

"Primary care practices can easily provide services for improved visual acuity and contrast sensitivity through proper-fitting contact lenses or glasses, sport-specific sunglasses or protective eyewear," Dr. Horn says.

Depending on your investment, doctors of optometry can offer so much more, he adds. Still, doctors of optometry shouldn't oversell that techniques will guarantee success on the field, Dr. Horn says. Instead, he says, tell athletes that you can improve their visual skills, which may result in better on-field performance.

Tackle technology

After settling into their stance, doctors of optometry may want to make a greater financial investment in technology.

"The basic low-tech devices such as the Brock String, accommodation charts and fixation sticks are found now outside of optometry, so we have already begun to lose that scope of care," says Keith Smithson, O.D., SPV Committee member and team doctor of optometry for several Washington, D.C.-area professional sports teams. "So, investment is now a must, in my opinion. The basic devices can still be used by doctors of optometry to begin their practice, gain experience in foundational vision testing and training concepts and can also be used in the proposed community sports-vision evaluations. But eventually, to be competitive, they might consider purchasing more advanced technologies—automated computerized technologies, such as eye-tracking systems."

Access resources from the SPV Committee, join the SPV Advocacy Network and learn how you can list your practice's emphasis on sports vision in the AOA's Find a Doctor Locator.

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