Take 5 with Tom Griffiths

“The economic case for government funding is there,” says Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths, a Sunday Times Top 100 Entrepreneur-Disruptor with his own orthokeratology (ortho-k) story, joined Scotlens earlier this year as a partner and managing director.

Tom’s interest in the manufacturer was sparked when his teenage son’s life was, as he describes, transformed by ortho-k.

As we reported in the November issue of Dispensing Optics, Scotlens has teamed up with Avizor to create a ‘night lenses experience’ – Nocturnal by Scotlens – to drive demand for ortho-k contact lenses but branded as ‘night lenses’.

Taking their quest to drive in-practice discussions about myopia management in practice a step further, Tom is spearheading a new campaign – #MyopiaChat – to achieve “one million practitioner/parent chats about myopia in 2022”. The campaign is also calling on the government to introduce a Myopia Strategy and provide funding for myopia reduction treatments.

Nicky Collinson, Dispensing Optics editor, spoke to Tom to find out more…

Q: With your new campaign, you’ve moved the emphasis from ‘clinical’ to ‘lifestyle’. Why?

A: My high myopic teenage son’s life was transformed by ortho-k night lenses. Not changed or improved, but transformed. With freedom from glasses or day lenses, he was able to do so much more and his confidence rocketed. Our nightlenses.com portal is full of people who say that these lenses transformed their lives. If night lenses monumentally change people’s lives, why are they not more high profile? Something is fundamentally wrong.

We spent months looking at this. It was clear that when discussed as a ‘clinical’ product – ortho-k or orthokeratology – the public don’t appear to understand them. They sound medical, specialist and unappealing. The images traditionally used show the eyeball changing shape, which we discovered horrify the public. Ortho-k content on optical practice websites was a confusing orthokeratology lesson. In marketing terms, the problem was that everyone was focusing on the sausage (the lens/process) and not the sizzle (how it changes your life).

The moment you focus on how these lenses change lives, it’s an easy sell. My son’s story of freedom and gaining confidence appeals to other parents who want that for their kids. Sports people saying how their lives are better because they don’t need sports glasses or prescription googles, and they can play sport better without worrying about a dislodged lens, makes hearts leap. If you’ve never had to ‘do without’, you don’t understand the value to those who have had to do without of suddenly being able to do what they want; to not miss out; to be ‘normal’. The desire to feel ‘normal’ and not ‘clinically special’ is very powerful. The campaign unlocks this.

Q: How would you respond to clinicians who might question the somewhat radical renaming of orthokeratology contact lenses as ‘night lenses’?

A: I don’t think anyone would say that using the colloquial term ‘laser eye surgery’ instead of the medical term ‘photorefractive keratectomy’ was radical. Using a term patients understand and can communicate makes sense. People and other manufacturers have been calling them night lenses for years. Our message to clinicians is to try it and see. Offer patients either ‘glasses’, ‘day lenses’ or ‘night lenses’ and you’ll have a completely different discussion.

Patients get it; they can either wear a lens during the day or wear one overnight and not have a lens in during the day. I guarantee the eyecare practitioner (ECP) will never go back to using ‘ortho-k’ or ‘orthokeratology’. ECPs have the opportunity to offer something equivalent to laser eye surgery. That’s huge. The only thing stopping that is communication.

Q: How are you supporting practitioners who want to fit ortho-k (or night) lenses, but perhaps don’t have the confidence to do so?

A: Anyone who knows my business partner, Scott Brown, knows that he’s a contact lens geek who is passionate about successful patient outcomes. He has nearly 20 years of ortho-k experience as a lens designer and an optometrist; he loves teaching this stuff and he’s great at it. Sadly, there’s only one of him. So, we’re gradually filling up our YouTube channel with his video guides, CET lectures and the plan is to run conferences to teach as many people as we can.

Q: Should the NHS contribute towards the cost of myopia management treatments, whether it be contact lenses or spectacle lenses?

A: Personally, I say ‘yes’, and Scott feels the same. My son’s myopia has been stable now for three years around -4.50D, which means a decreased risk of future eye disease. What parent wouldn’t want that? I’m so relieved we did it. But then I feel guilty. We can afford it. What about all the families who can’t? It’s not right and it’s not fair.

The economic case for government funding is also there. We’re in an epidemic right now, not a prediction. Which means a tsunami is building. This wave, at some point when our children reach late adulthood, will hit land and cost more to fix in the future, than to prevent now. Economically it makes sense. Morally, even more so.

Q: What is the next product or service you would seek to ‘disrupt’?

A: Constructive disruption may be needed to change how the public use, and value, ECPs. Scott and I have had long discussions about this. Many patients get an eye exam as cheaply as possible so they can go online and buy their glasses or lenses at rock bottom prices. People understand they can by-pass the system and are helped to buy direct, instantly relegating ECPs in their own food chain. This is wrong.

ECPs should be viewed as healthcare professionals by a person who understand themselves to be a patient. Sadly, most are viewed as a ‘necessary cog’ in a buying process by a patient who only sees themselves as a customer, not as a patient. Changing mindsets and buying habits is long overdue in the UK. But how?

During lockdown, before joining Scotlens, I worked on a ‘Sea to Plate’ project to enable fishermen to sell direct to the public. Fishermen, like ECPs, do all the hard work and then make very little money. This is because the end product is bought/sold as a cheap commodity, with no value on their time/experience. A race to the bottom. Sound familiar?

The concept worked because the fisherman was the only necessary cog in the chain and took control of the process. The public don’t catch their own fish. For me, disruption in optics will come from the fact that the patient has to come to the practice for an eye examination. So, we need to start there and re-write the rules.

Scott and I also geek-out talking about tech coming into this space. Smart lenses that adjust your focus would certainly be a disruptive game changer.

To find out more about the campaign, visit the Myopia Chat website.