Defining Canadian Vision Care

FYidoctors combines the passion and quality eye care offered by independent practitioners fused with the clout and pricing of a large corporation. FYidoctors does not compromise on patients’ vision care, creating a winning combination of quality and value while providing a standard in professional care deemed acceptable by eye doctors.

Dr. Alan Ulsifer, the founder and CEO of FYidoctors, believes that no one is in a better position to determine the vision care needs of Canadians than eye doctors. Over many years of practicing optometry as a partner in one of Canada’s largest independent practices in Grande Prairie, Alta. – where the initial vision of FYidoctors came to life – Dr. Ulsifer and his colleagues noted a number of new and prevalent trends in Canadian vision care. Giant multinational companies were gobbling up their smaller counterparts and were decreasing competition at an alarming rate. Evidence was mounting that profit was becoming more important than patient care. The group observed other signs and trends that were interpreted as threatening to the future of independent optometry; for example, the decision of many young practitioners to become affiliated with chains and optical corporations instead of establishing their own independent practice. The recession and the advent of (unregulated) online merchants added to the uncertainty of the future.

These trends and changes in the eye care market have created a customer perception that vision care is a commodity, and that all eye care services and products are considered equal. “Today we do not really see advertising that focuses on vision care or the importance of regular eye health assessments.

Rather we see advertising for cheap, ‘one size fits all’ eyeglasses. So somewhere along the way, eye care has become a commoditized product,” says Ulsifer; and that is why he launched FYidoctors — to provide better patient care to Canadians under the guidance of eye doctors (not corporate executives), and to provide independent optometrists access to advanced diagnostic tools and newer product technologies that have been often out of their reach.

Many of today’s private eye care practitioners do not have the resources to educate the public at large on the differences in performance and price of vision products. Many independent practices also have to manage perceptions that they are more expensive, namely because they don’t have the buying power or the clout compared to that of large stores and chains.

These facts contributed to a gyre where many private practice optometrists are not as able to invest in their practices and stay current with advances in technology, and thus their standards of patient care can feel compromised. In the end, the patients are on the losing end and many optometrists feel at a loss.

Furthermore, Ulsifer noted, “In around 2005 we also saw a significant change in lens production technologies, where the technology shattered the ‘one size fits all’ approach, and allowed for customized lens manufacturing. We wanted to offer our customers this technology, but we were not large enough at the time to do so. At this point we started to talk with other optometrists about their challenges such as competitive buying, and how an independent optometrist could compete with chain stores in regards to pricing and technology. The resulting idea was to come together as a collaborative entity and create our own manufacturing laboratory and distribution centre, to stay on the leading edge of lens technology and design.”  

FYidoctors officially launched in 2008, and over four short years has grown to 106 locations across Canada, including a 30,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Burnaby, B.C., and a head office in Calgary. “Small independent optometrists do not generally have access to sophisticated marketing resources or  dedicated teams in operations and administration to support their business, so we came together to offer these resources while building a company that supports a “patient first” approach, helping doctors and their staff to better deliver on patient needs,” says Ulsifer.

Vertical integration has allowed the company to pass on competitive pricing and the latest products in the market to the patient. And it shows — the company is currently the second largest eye care company in Canada and the largest independent eye care company in the country. With an aggressive growth plan set for 2013, the company has set its sights to become No. 1 overall in the coming years.

The Technology

FYidoctors provides private practice eye doctors the ability to offer their patients the newest technologies in diagnostic care and vision products at a great value. FYidoctors attracts proactive eye care professionals whose priority is to provide quality, doctor-driven care, and who want to take action against the main street attitudes that see diagnostic vision care as a “cost of doing business”, or who don’t place a high value on eye health and prevention of complications and disease.

FYidoctors equips all of their primary locations with the latest, state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment including the likes of OCTs (Optical Coherence Tomography) – an eye imaging test that monitors nerve fiber in the retina – and Optomap Retinal Scanners, which allow eye doctors to have a much wider and comprehensive view of the retina (an 80 per cent view vs. a much narrower 20 per cent view with older technology). These advanced diagnostic tools allow eye doctors to identify eye health complications and disease much earlier in their progression, detecting the most subtle changes that could otherwise go undetected, and thus helping early diagnosis of diseases such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and even some forms of cancer.

FYidoctors also offers one of the largest selections (in North America) of personalized vision products, employing the latest in lens technology (Internal Freeform), custom manufactured in FYI’s own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Internal Freeform lenses are fully customized lenses, using a technology that creates hundreds of digital touch points calculated and fused onto the lens, designed to match the natural movements of the eye. “The traditional lens has the so-called optical centre. This centre point of the lens gives the patient the clearest vision, but beyond this centre of the lens and when looking through the sides, the quality of vision diminishes. Internal Freeform lenses create a wider field of view for the wearer, reducing the use of the unusable space, and reduce distortion – providing more natural and more comfortable vision overall.”

The Patient

While FYidoctors’ 200 plus optometrists collaborate to continue to offer what they feel is a high standard vision care experience for their patients, according to Ulsifer, many Canadians continue to neglect their eye care. “The human eye has no pain receptors in the retina, so people may suffer from an eye disease without any symptoms in the early stages or, with changes happening gradually, people may not even realize that there may be an issue until it’s usually too late for correction. So we want to be sure to deliver a message to ‘take care and preserve your sight’.”

In an ongoing effort to help change public attitude, FYidoctors feels that it starts in each practice where doctors and staff are encouraged to educate patients on their ocular health, the necessity for regular eye exams and the differences in vision products. “We are focusing on patient education, and we are making sure that all of our staff are capable to talk to patients about their eye health, to explain the importance of various testing, and to help patients understand the differences in price and performance of their eye wear so that they can make an informed decision when purchasing new glasses or other products, whether it’s from one of our locations or not. In the future we plan to educate the broader public, and reach out to those who may need vision care and maybe don’t know it,” says Ulsifer.

Driven by eye doctors, FYidoctors’ goal is to serve its clientele as patients, not as customers. FYidoctors chose to come together to help redefine the Canadian eye care landscape, to bring value back to patients and to commit to delivering a vision care experience that will leave patients saying “Wow, I can’t believe the difference!”