Optometry Podcast: Dr. Jack Schaeffer talks Building a Myopia Control Specialty

If you’re looking to learn from a doctor who’s truly shaped the landscape of optometry in his career, look no further than Dr. Jack Schaeffer. He founded Schaeffer Eye Center in Alabama with a focus on practicing full scope optometry and specialty eyecare, and grew it to include 22 doctors 148 employees before exiting to private equity in 2017. His passion for the profession is contagious, as evidenced by the fact that his three children have all become optometrists and thought leaders in their own right: Dr. Brooke Kaplan, Dr. Mark Schaeffer, and Dr. David Schaeffer.

The success of his practice was founded on a mindset that he dubbed the Schaeffer Eye Care Experience. The concept is simple: the patient comes first. His practice and the doctors that he employed shared this mindset that service to the patient, including unparalleled level of care and compassion, is what it truly means to be a doctor.

Dr. Schaeffer pioneered the concept of large group practices long before private equity consolidation became a norm. When asked about his inspiration to grow, Dr. Schaeffer shares he was driven to be number one in the market. He looked around his local eyecare community and saw Lens Crafters with multiple locations and Pearle Vision with multiple locations. He knew patients, no matter how good his optometric care was, would never drive 40+minutes to visit his office for eyecare. Managed care was also coming into the market and that sparked him to create his own managed care platform. He joined forces with other doctors in the area to create their own large panel that competed with the likes of VSP in offering local businesses options to offer vision care plans to their employees.

One of the hallmarks of his practice was focusing on specialty eyecare. He cites an inspiring lecture by Dr. Brien Holden to take up the mantle of myopia as being one of the biggest influences in his career.  The lecture was roughly a decade ago, and Dr. Holden aggressively called out American optometry for ignoring the science and data and not offering myopia management to patients as a standard of care. Dr. Schaeffer came away from that meeting inspired to make a difference and institute a myopia management specialty in his clinic, and made a lifelong friend and mentor in Dr. Holden.

Why myopia?  Dr. Schaeffer thinks the scientific evidence speaks for itself. “A child that’s a -6.00D myope is twice a likely to develop eye disease like glaucoma and retinal detachment. If we can stop that, why wouldn’t we want to do it?”

Not everyone will want to practice myopia management, he acknowledges, but he insists that as doctors we have to be willing to have the discussion and learn how to refer to other doctors who do offer this care.

“As optometrists we need to learn how to refer to each other. Myopia management is a perfect way to grow internal referrals within optometry.”

A stumbling block often cited by optometrists in embracing myopia management strategies is that all current treatments for myopia control have no FDA approval as such. Dr. Schaefer counters that this should not hold doctors back. “FDA approval is not needed for doctors to embrace myopia management.” He insists that as doctors we prescribe things off label all of the time in eyecare when prescribing medications or managing conditions like dry eye. “We are doctors. We make a decision based on what is best for that patient. If you look at the research there is no doubt; evidence-based medicine shows this absolutely helps children.”

Dr. Schaeffer will be teaming up with an all-star panel at Vision Expo East for a comprehensive look at myopia management.  The workshop will be an overview of what optometrists need to know to start the conversations with their patients, including:

  • statistics on myopia prevalence
  • key findings of the International Myopia Institute research studies
  • risks of myopia development and progression, including how to use a risk calculator to educate parents about the patient’s risk for progression
  • strategies to manage those risks
  • equipment needed
  • available myopia management treatment options and how to monitor each one

Panelists include the top minds in myopia management research and education:

  • Dr. Earl Smith, Dean of the University of Houston School of Optometry whose research on peripheral defocus established the current model of how myopia progresses in children.
  • Judith Stern, BOptom, the Global Manager for Learning and Teaching at the Brien Holden Vision Institute
  • Michael Morton, BOptom, the Online Education Coordinator at the Brien Holden Vision Institute
  • Dr. Jack Schaeffer who will be discussing how to develop the business side of myopia management in your practice.

Sign up for the Brien Holden Vision Institute Managing Myopia: Possibilities and Probabilities held Saturday, 3/23 from 9:45-11:45 at Vision Expo East to get access to this comprehensive education!

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