Our focus this month is VSP Optics, which aims to provide access to quality ophthalmic and contact lens products to VSP providers and members. I recently had the pleasure to speak with VSP Optics’ President, Don Oakley.
Mr. Oakley, please tell us about your company in terms of its history and direction.
VSP was the first prepaid, not-for-profit vision benefit company, and it was created to provide high-quality, affordable eye care. With that base, fast forward to the formation of the optics group in 1973, when our first laboratory was put in place. While we largely subcontracted the lens manufacturing, it was our time to understand the mechanics of how lenses were manufactured and to make sure that those technologies were available to our providers and members.
When we looked at new technologies in the early 2000s, not many in ophthalmic lenses were adopting free-form technology, and we thought it was a superior technological solution besides being cost effective. The corporation decided that we would provide access and that we would set high standards for our product quality and for improving visual acuity. That was the start of our real launch in optics in the early 2000s, and we launched our own successful line of Unity-branded ophthalmic lenses through 2011.
In 2014/2015, we decided to start translating that success to the other half of our optical community who uses contact lenses. Our philosophy remained the same: to provide premium quality to our members and providers, ensuring that they had access to these products and that they were affordable while representing the best in visual acuity and comfort.
Tell us about any new products or new developments in which VSP Optics is involved.
Back in 2014 and 2015, after evaluating available products that we could source, we elected to delay getting into the contact lens business. But recently, with newer silicone hydrogel and coating technologies and new designs, we found what we believe to be a perfect marriage of material, design, and coating in our new Unity BioSync silicone hydrogel daily disposable.
We intend to expand in both materials and modalities in the same fashion in which we did with ophthalmic lenses. It is a guided approach that will take us into toric and multifocal options and then into different modalities as we build a portfolio. We also want to make sure that we understand where the marketplace is going, because we want to put our strongest energy into the technologies that are going to be meaningful to VSP members.
Tell us your vision for the contact lens field in the short term (less than 5 years) and in the long term (20 years from now).
An old engineer once said to me: “Those who work with crystal balls ultimately wind up eating glass.” Predicting the future is tricky, but it’s no prediction that there will be electronics on contact lenses. Some already exist today.
But, what can we do with contact lenses to improve visual acuity at this stage of the game? Over the short term, in the next three to five years, that’s job one: getting a portfolio of great ophthalmic and contact lenses lined up to provide the best in vision correction.
I think beyond that is when you start eating glass. I do a lot of work in technology and innovation, and I’ve worked with a dozen different companies. I have been astounded at the rate of progress in vision and vision utilizing devices, from augmented reality/virtual reality to pressure-sensing contact lenses to smart eyewear in the last five years. So, to venture a guess past five years, I would say that all things are possible.
We will continue VSP’s mission to help people see better and achieve their full potential. We’re on the pathway, and we’re delighted and thrilled to be doing this work. CLS