SVone Autorefractor Review
January 4, 2018
I was recently invited to “test drive” the SVone “5-minute exam” system at an optical store in Palo Alto, Ca. One of our clients is seriously considering investing in the Smart Vision Labs SVone unit, which would in essence allow them to provide customers with a refraction without needing a doctor on premises.
In an effort to make this post quick and informative, I won’t be going into technical details on how the system works (the technical data you can read here) but rather I’ll be sharing my experience going through the SVone examination and my professional opinion on its potential worth to an independent ophthalmic dispenser.
When my client asked if I would accompany him for an in-person demonstration on how the SVone system works, I awaited the day with excitement. I had read about this system before but personally never had the opportunity to see one work in person.
On a sunny Saturday morning we arrived at the optical shop hosting us and I honestly couldn’t even see the unit at first. Not until Robert (The Owner) pointed it out did I realize it had been in the room the whole time. He has it mounted onto a black microphone stand (to easily adjust the height for each patient) and it was standing against a wall virtually undetectable.
I was happy to be chosen to play the role of patient for the demonstration. I wanted to experience the process through the perspective of a customer so I could answer some important questions:
Did the process feel professional?
Did the SVone seem like a cheap gadget or did it feel like a medical device?
Did I feel confident in the results?
Did the person administering the exam seem qualified?
Did the whole thing feel like a sales strategy or was this in fact a breakthrough in the eye care industry?
(I don’t want to give you all the specifics of how the machine works. Again, I’m trying to progress as quickly as possible to the “does it work?” and “is it worth it?” part so let’s just say I answered a few questions on the SVone, read from a Snellen chart and had some pictures taken. In about 10 minutes my exam was done.)
Now, I’ve spent many years working with Ophthalmologists, Optometrists and the expensive equipment they use so you can imagine my skepticism about the accuracy of this little unit. I’m not going to lie; I thought the prescription would be off. Simply based on the size of the SVone and the duration of the exam I had my doubts about its capability to accurately measure my visual needs.
After the demonstration we each went our separate ways and a few hours later I received an email with my prescription (surprisingly prescribed by an M.D not an O.D.). I didn’t read the email that same day. I waited until Monday so I could compare the results of the SVL prescription to my most recent glasses Rx.
So Monday came around and I told a few Optometrist and coworkers about my experience. I shared with them how the process works and I asked one of the COA's to auto-refract me using a much more expensive piece of equipment. I rushed to compare the two results and to my surprise… they were virtually the same.
I honestly thought that the SVone would come close but I didn’t think it would be that close. It really impressed me.
For those of you wondering how complex my prescription is, here you go:
OD -5.25 +1.00 x 72
OS -6.00 +2.00 x 78
So as you can see my eyes are the perfect candidates for testing the accuracy of the SVone. I have astigmatism and my prescription is high enough to where I depend on my glasses for everything.
Ok, so now that I’ve told you about my experience, let’s answer some of those important questions.
Did the process feel professional?
Yes it did, but it had a lot to do with Robert. In the wrong hands (and in the wrong environment) this device would feel like a gadget from the Sharper Image catalog.
Did the SVone feel like a medical device?
No. I think this is going to be a big hurdle for business owners to overcome. iPhones are so popular that you notice it right away and the average consumer will see the iPhone and immediately discredited its capability and accuracy.
It will be the greatest challenge business owners’ face; to convince customers that this is a highly advanced medical device (backed by Verizon) with years of data, research and development.
Don’t expect your local eye doctor to endorse or promote your service either. At the moment, the many doctors I've spoken with have mostly been against the use of such a devices in optical shops. I don't want to get into the debate because there will always be professionals for and against change. Let's just say you're not going to have the full support of the Ophthalmology and Optometry community.
Did it feel like a gimmick?
As I mentioned earlier, in the wrong hands and in the wrong environment the SVone and the “5-minute” exam will come across as a gimmick and a cheesy sales strategy. It is vital that the person administering the exam be extremely knowledgeable and professional. If you want to offer a "doctors service" you better provide doctor level service.
Equally as important is the presentation of the store and the opticians within it. If I walk into a store where the frames are trendy, the associates are groomed professionally and they are using iPads and modern technology then the SVone will fit right in and my confidence in the device will be boosted. But if I walk into a place where the computers screens are the size of microwaves, the frames are far off the current trends and the opticians look like they could care less about personal presentation then I’ll have zero confidence in the capabilities of the SVone.
Presentation is everything (and I’m not talking about the SVone itself). There is a reason Chanel and Dior isn’t found in every optical shop. They first send a representative to take pictures of the displays, they consider the other frame brands the store carries and they even take into consideration the stores location and the people that will be selling the product. They know that the presentation is vital to their brands image and even more importantly, the perceived value of their product.
I can’t stress this enough. I believe that the success or failure of this device is primarily hinged on the presentation so make sure your store is setup right before you try and bring this in.
If you still think this is right for you then here are some other things you should know. This is all information I received directly from a Smart Vision Labs representative early 2018. It is subject to change at any moment and I’m not promising you’ll get these prices or terms.
Is the device purchased or leased?
How much does it cost?
$6,500 to purchase the SVone unit. (Though they may have promotions. Check with SVL)
There is also a $1,200 yearly fee (*Telemedicine) for software updates, customer service and SVone cloud storage.
For Doctors offices that do not need the Telemedicine Service, the yearly service fee for the Autorefractor is $500.
* Telemedicine is the service where an offsite eye doctor reviews data provided by the SVone and they use that to write the prescription.
What is your cost per prescription?
SVL charges $25 per Rx. You will have to decide the price to charge the customer. Personally I wouldn’t charge more than $45.
Is there a free trial period?
No. Once you purchase the product it’s yours.
Do they provide training?
Yes. They will provide all the training and resources you need to get started.
Is there a new version of the SVone coming out using a newer model iPhone?
Not at the moment. Verizon was one of the first investors so there are plenty of phones available.
Can Doctors’ offices purchase this?
Yes. Keep in mind there is a $500 yearly service fee.
Where is the patient information stored?
It can be downloaded directly off the device or it can be saved onto a cloud based storage provided by SVL.
The question is, should YOU get it? Well, start by doing the math so you can calculate the ROI. See the diagram below for a ROI breakdown.
As you can see in the diagram, the average number of exams you’ll need to hit is 18 per month. Anything less than that and you’re in the negative.
Don’t get the SVone expecting to make huge profits solely from the exams. The reason to bring one of these devices into your store is to attract more customers and convert those exams into glasses sales. That’s where the true value should be measured.
Do you think you can convert those exams into eyeglass sales? If so then you should consider investing in a unit. Do you get a lot of referrals from eye doctors in your area? If yes then you should think about the possible damage you could be doing to your relationship with them. As I mentioned earlier, not all eye doctors think well of opticians doing refractions. Just be aware of that.
There are many intangible and unmeasurable pieces to the puzzle. Each store and location is different so you’ll want to take this information and think about your own unique situation.
It is just a matter of time before a large company like Warby Parker streamlines this technology and system. They have the marketing skills and momentum to overcome the challenge of integrating this into the consumers mind. The founders have already stated publicly that this is the type of technology they are going to be rolling into their stores in 2018.
Thank you for reading!