Mobile eye clinic brings vision benefits to remote workers

This mobile optometry is bringing eye exams to neighborhoods.
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Dr. Katherine Harkins normally rolls up to office buildings to bring eye exams directly to employees — but these aren’t normal times. With many employees working from home due to the pandemic, Harkins and her team are making it easier for them to use their vision benefits by setting up shop in neighborhoods.

“It’s difficult to get away from work, and many people may not feel comfortable going to a brick and mortar right now,” Harkins says. “We’re making it even easier for patients to get eye exams — many will just have to step out their front door.”

Read more: Bringing 20/20 vision to the office

Harkins is an optometrist for 20/20 On-site, a Boston-based mobile optometrist company that uses a fleet of fully outfitted RVs to deliver care. The company was designed to make optometry visits more accessible to busy employees, who otherwise would have to take a day off to keep an appointment.

“PTO is precious — no one wants to use it to go to any type of doctor appointment,” Harkins says. “It’s really important to us to be able to make eye exams accessible to everyone.”

Harkins says the company saw an opportunity to leverage their existing business model during COVID-19. Now, they set up their vans in residential neighborhoods, apartment complexes, libraries and shopping centers in Boston, as well as more rural areas in Massachusetts. They’ve taken extra safety precautions to ensure employees feel comfortable utilizing this benefit.

“People come in one at a time — it’s just them and the optometrist inside the RV, and we sanitize after every appointment,” Harkins says. “People get really excited and grateful about that.”

The company’s social distancing efforts have led to a new feature: virtual styling. Elizabeth Alicakos, virtual stylist for 20/20 On-Site, was furloughed from the company at the start of the pandemic, but returned in May to pilot this new initiative. She uses measurements and patient feedback to create a tailored lineup of glasses for patients to choose from.

“Patients fill out a survey about what styles they like and if they prefer certain brands, and I’ll ask them to provide a selfie wearing their current pair to get an idea of what they like,” Alicakos says. “I jump on a Zoom call with them ready with a set of glasses I believe will work for them.”

Read more: Too much screen time from remote work? These tips can combat uncomfortable eye strain

During the Zoom calls, Alicakos tries on the glasses herself so patients can see what they look like on a person. While it’s not the same as trying glasses on themselves, she believes the service is more helpful than websites that allow patients to virtually “try on” glasses using their webcam.

“It can be overwhelming choosing a pair of glasses from what can seem like hundreds of options,” Alicakos says. “I’ve been helping people pick out glasses for eight years, so I use my instincts and knowledge of angles and lines to help people choose new frames.”

The new service has also reduced appointment lengths, because many patients are coming in already knowing which pair of glasses they plan to order after their exam, Alicakos says. For those who are running out of contact lenses, the company also offers telemedicine appointments.

“We can’t do a new refraction over the computer, of course, but we can talk to the patient about how their eyes are feeling and what their vision is like,” Harkins says. “You usually need to see an optometrist to refill your contacts — it’s a great way to help people in a pinch.”

As the pandemic continues, 20/20 On-site plans to continue its new initiatives to help patients safely receive the healthcare they need. They plan to expand this service this year and throughout 2021 by taking their RVs cross country to help people who may not have easy access to optometrists. Employers who are interested in bringing these services to their workforce should visit the company’s website.

“It’s a great way to give back to your workforce and ensure they have the care they need,” Alicakos says.

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