An Expansive Vision

Optometrists are merging in the Flathead Valley to provide high-quality vision care

By Maggie Dresser
Optometrist Stan Smith performs an eye examination at Vision Clinic in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As baby boomers age and new residents continue to flock to the Flathead Valley, optometrists are seeing a steady flow of business, a need they are meeting with multi-optometrist clinics in the region.

While commercial eye centers have long existed in places like Walmart and Costco, individual optometrists are joining forces to work under one facility to provide a more specialized and higher quality of care.

According to Dr. Stan Smith, the Vision Clinic in Kalispell has been independent since 1923 and has recently grown into a six-doctor facility after seeing 13,000 eye exams last year.

“As our population ages, we get busier,” Smith said.

Before moving into a new 10,000-square-foot building on North Meridian Road six months ago, Smith originally intended to have a four-doctor practice, but as demand expanded, so did his office.

“The core of our stuff hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years,” Smith said. “It’s just all the diagnostics and technology.”

As technology advances and becomes more expensive, Smith says it’s more efficient for multiple doctors to utilize the equipment rather than just one.

“For one doctor to have all that equipment, it costs a lot of money and it’s tough to utilize it all,” Smith said.

Since multiple optometrists are using the equipment, Smith says he includes an Optomap Retinal Exam in all eye exams, which provides a detailed view of the retina to determine if the eye is healthy or diseased. Smith says most optometrists charge $30 to $40 for the Optomap, but he includes it in all eye exams.

“We just want consistency and continuity of care,” Smith said. “And patients like to see the back of their eyeballs.”

While the Optomap exam doesn’t replace pupil dilation, Smith says it allows him to use dilation less, which is easier on patients.

Smith also uses an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan on patients 25 and older, which scans 10 different layers or cross sections of the retina at 20,000 to 70,000 times per second. The scan helps diagnose disorders like glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Smith says macular degeneration is a relatively common condition in patients 60 and older. He also sees many patients with diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes and the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.

Nearsightedness in patients is also becoming more common and is suspected to have grown with the increased use of screens. In the U.S., 30 percent of the population is affected, while more than half of China’s population is affected.

For people who work at a computer, Smith recommends that people turn away from their computer every 20 minutes. He also suggests turning the blue light down in electronics.

Smith says the merger also allows Vision Clinic’s doctors to work at their highest potential, where they may have been restricted at a small or commercial clinic. He says the clinic has the facility, the staff and the equipment to offer a high-quality care level.

“We prefer to have more docs and less technicians,” he said.

The optometrists at the Vision Clinic provide two or three exams an hour, which gives patients a more thorough exam.

“We’ve found our niche and we’ve grown through it,” Smith said.

Smith suggests patients with healthy eyes should get an exam every three years while others might need an exam every three months to once a year.

In addition to the Vision Clinic, Kalispell is also home to Glacier Eye Clinic, which houses six ophthalmologists and two optometrists and provides services in Polson and Libby.

Glacier Eye Clinic is located at 175 Timberwolf Parkway in Kalispell.

Visit www.glaciereye.com for more information.

Vision Clinic is located at 580 North Meridian Road in Kalispell. For more information, visit www.kalispellvisionclinic.com.

maggie@flatheadbeacon.com

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