The first time that Mary Jo Stiegemeier, OD, FAAO, truly felt relieved of her duties as owner of a two-location practice she transitioned to MyEyeDr. in January 2020 was when she took a vacation. Partway through the trip, she realized she didn’t need to check emails or call the office to make sure everything was going well. However, for patients who come in to see Dr. Stiegemeier or one of the other three doctors in Beachwood, Ohio, there’s little noticeable difference at all.
Dr. Stiegemeier built a highly successful practice that she started in 1999; for 16 years prior, she had worked in an ophthalmology/optometry practice where she oversaw not only the optometric and contact lens areas but also managed the hiring, training and management of all the clinical assistants. That mix of duties prepared her well for opening a practice, which eventual grew to the two locations, four ODs and a staff of 32.
As Dr. Stiegemeier began to contemplate her transition strategy, she made it a priority to look for something that “felt as close to private practice and had similar policies as I did,” she says. She found that with MyEyeDr. – and the deal closed just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Shortly after, the practice closed for six weeks. “I feel like I could have managed the practice during this time,” she says, “but on the other hand, I had been responsible for the support of 30 families. So there was tremendous relief to have MyEyeDr. involved to guide me and the team.”
GREATER SCOPE, GREATER ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLEXITIES
Over her career, Dr. Stiegemeier has seen many changes in the profession, particularly for women. A 1983 graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, she remembers leaving one bank frustrated when the lender told her she’d need to have her husband – not an OD – co-sign her $250,000 loan to start a practice. (She found another banker.) Women have come a long way in the profession, she says, but the whole industry around optometry has grown, too.
There’s the expansion of services and a broader array of diagnostics and products to help patients with a variety of ocular conditions. Dr. Stiegemeier was early on board with myopia management, having done some of the original corneal refractive therapy studies. She remains keenly interested in developments in myopia management, particularly because her practice specializes in contact lenses and helping patients maintain their best vision for life. She has been pleased that MyEyeDr. has been supportive of her professional interests and continues to provide opportunities to remain engaged in the profession.
ATTUNED TO THE DIGITAL LIFESTYLE
“During the pandemic, I noticed two trends: either people were not wearing their contact lenses at all or people were almost exclusively wearing their contact lenses,” she says. Both groups felt strongly about their choices. The eyeglasses-wearers appreciated the convenience and ease; the contact lens-only patients were frustrated by fogging lenses and masks. But both groups – and anyone in between – were experiencing the eye fatigue that comes with more digital screen time.
“As students went to hybrid learning, I saw that many parents became more attuned to the fact that their children were spending a lot of time on their screens. These parents wanted to learn more about myopia and had a greater interest in it,” she says. In fact, she wishes that there was a practical and easy guideline she could give them about the amount of screen time that is OK for youngsters, depending on their age, other activities and schoolwork load.
As did many other doctors and practice employees, the MyEyeDr. team took advantage of a lower patient flow to take on new training. New options, such as soft multifocal contact lenses, came about during the pandemic. “We had been doing orthokeratology and atropine or some combination, and we had used some soft contact lens options, too, but we did the training on MiSight from CooperVision, for example, and we were able to become certified and bring that on,” she says.
One procedure that did change a little was how she now presents and schedules patients for myopia management consults. “Prior to COVID-19, if a patient was in for an eyeglasses exam and we saw that the patient’s myopia was progressing quickly, we might talk about and perhaps even start treatment,” she says. Now, however, she’ll identify the risk factors and prescription changes and provide a small amount of information about myopia and the young patient’s trend. Then she’ll suggest that both parents (if applicable) come back for a consult with the patient. “I provide them with some written information and tell them that if it’s something they want to consider, we can get together for a conversation,” she says. It’s important to let the information sink in because many parents need some time.