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A Brief History of Optical Express

"Optical Express founder David Moulsdale explains how the public and private sectors can work together to improve clinical outcomes."

Optical Express chief executive officer David Moulsdale trained as a dispensing optician in the Eighties, the same decade in which the Thatcher government began deregulating the ophthalmic profession. Those changes transformed the industry, opening the door for new companies and loosening restrictions on marketing and advertising. They also provided the perfect setting for Moulsdale to launch his own business.

In 1991 he founded Optical Express. He opened up a number of optical stores in quick succession and then acquired several optical businesses and integrated those. He went on to purchase the Specdeals optical business in early 2002 but chose not to purchase its laser eye clinic. However, the acquisition did spark his interest in the laser eye surgery industry; even though his initial reaction was that it could potentially become a serious threat to his mainstream optical, spectacle and contact lens business.

Later in 2002 another opportunity arose for Optical Express to purchase a laser eye surgery business, The Health Clinic PLC, and this time Moulsdale went for it. At first he was guided by the surgeons and the manufacturers of the devices, but he soon realised that he needed to have his own data and IT infrastructure, and he needed to focus on implementing the latest technologies.

These days, an Optical Express surgeon can typically perform between 16 and 20 procedures per day. According to Moulsdale, NHS surgeons generally perform between three and six eye surgeries per day, due to the service’s financial and resource constraints.

“I believe the solution would be more public and private partnerships,” says Moulsdale. “We can work together in a collaborative and supportive way to improve efficiency and productivity. It is possible.”

One of the notable innovations that benefits Optical Express is iScan, its diagnostic screening technology. According to Moulsdale, the implementation of iScan has improved clinical care, productivity and efficiency. Moulsdale says he hopes to bring iScan into every ophthalmic department throughout the UK in a six to 12-month roll-out programme, potentially saving the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

In recent years Optical Express formed a partnership with private health insurer Bupa and discovered that Bupa provided cover for thousands of cataract procedures for its members. However, they did not have access to the clinical outcomes. Moulsdale offered to provide them with the information on clinical outcomes data that they were seeking.

Bupa was the first private insurer to go live with Optical Express for direct bookings with consultant surgeons. Moulsdale sees it as a blueprint for future partnerships because it outlines how private health insurers that embrace Optical Express technology, systems and infrastructure can benefit.

“Solutions for correcting poor vision started outside the eye with spectacles,” says Moulsdale, “then came contact lenses. Laser eye surgery which treats the prescription on the surface of the eye followed and we are now working on research into the back of the eye.

“Our vision for the future is to completely eradicate the need to put up with poor vision – and it is something that I truly believe is achievable.”