By Cindy Atoji Keene
Health care reform has provided universal coverage – but the new barrier to improved health is a different kind of access, said Alexa Baggio of Project 2020. That’s why this Boston start-up aims to make it easier to get basic preventative care for annual eye exams. Instead of enduring a two to four hour time commitment because of logistical constraints – long wait times, traffic, paperwork and possibly needing alternate transportation after eye dilation – an “eye truck” or mobile clinic delivers “cool, convenient eye care,” said Baggio, director of operations. “We take a headache-inducing process that has a lot of ‘fat’ involved and reduce it to 15 minutes, while increasing the quality of care,” said Baggio.
Q: Is this the next step in a broadly-defined ‘mobile health’ – easier provisioning of healthcare, whether through mobile apps, local drugstore walk-in clinics, and even chiropractor on wheels?
A: We’re living in a convenience economy where consumers want greater simplicity and efficiency. Whether it’s mobile car detailers, manicures or pet groomers – you name it – it’s easier to bring services directly to homes or businesses, especially those chores or appointments that people don’t necessarily want to go out of their way to accomplish. If I’m going to a fancy restaurant, I’m happy to drive there for the ambiance and the food, but that’s not the case for, say, a dry cleaner. I just want to get my clothes cleaned without a hassle. So Project 2020 is on-site optometry; the eye doctor comes to your office for a full eye exam, including a vision check as well as screening for preventable eye diseases.
Q: Project 2020 has been called a food truck for the optometry industry. What do you think of that comparison?
A: I love food trucks and don’t think that analogy is a negative thing. If there is a belief that getting an eye exam in a truck is a sub-par experience, we’ve done everything possible to combat that idea. We work out of a state-of-the-art facility that’s very high-tech and clean – it looks almost like an Apple store inside. It’s actually more equipped than a lot of retail shops. When you’re changing a behavior or setting that users are accustomed to, expectations also need to be altered.
Q: When you bring the optometrist to the patient, what’s the vehicle equipped with?
A: The flow inside the truck is designed to be super-efficient; it’s divided into a reception area, exam room, and retail section. On board are two technicians and a licensed optometrist, and the process is super-efficient, from the registration to diagnosis. The equipment all ‘talks’ to one another, whether it’s the autorefractor that takes the measurement of refractive status, to the high definition retinal camera that snaps a picture of the blood vessel and nerve behind your eyes and sometimes replacing the need for dilation.
Q: Did you run into any licensing or permitting issues with the truck?
A: Setting up a mobile clinic has different requirements than brick and mortar; a traditional healthcare model is easier to wrap your head around. This is unchartered territory and it’s not a small endeavor to put together a mobile setting to serve patients. There are aspects one might never think of, such as bathrooms. sinks and running water, and many other details.
Q: For almost a year, Project 2020 has brought vision care to some of the area’s largest employers and start-ups. How has it been received?
A: We’ve been rolling around town to Wayfair, Sapient, Forrester Research, Broad Institute, and others, and have had an incredible reaction. We work with human resource departments, who schedule a visit during the work week and then provide a link so employees can book appointments online in advance. Project 2020 is in network with all major vision plans, so it’s a free benefit for employees; co-payments and insurance reimbursements provide much of our revenue.
Q: Do you wear glasses yourself?
A: I wear dark-rimmed Gucci’s; I don’t have a very high prescription but it takes the strain off my eyes when I’m staring at the computer for 14 hours a day. I like to joke, ‘Why see the world in low-definition when I can see it in high-def?’