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VOL. 125 | NO. 250 | Monday, December 27, 2010

Johnson, Eyewear Gallery Focus on Providing Difference in Care

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Dr. Warren Johnson went into optometry because he enjoyed helping people on a one-on-one basis.

Eyewear Gallery, a designer eyewear center in East Memphis, was started 25 years by Dr. Warren Johnson and his wife Kay. Back from left to right are: Emma White, Kay Johnson, Dr. Warren Johnson, John Carter, Maggie Wallace, Donna Freeman and Shirley Paul. Front seated is Carol Crouse. The business is located at 428 Perkins Road Extended. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Now the owner of Eyewear Gallery in East Memphis says that his patients get to have several one-on-one experiences with each visit.

“I want (my staff) to be experts, and being an expert reflects on the way I would take care of that patient,” said Johnson, who started Eyewear Gallery 25 years ago.

As a college student, Johnson chose optometry over architecture after shadowing his second cousin, also an optometrist, and seeing the way patients receive good care.

Later, as a student at the Southern College of Optometry, he held onto that vision while grinding away through tests and studying.

“The thing you have to keep in mind was to look at that optometrist in day-to-day practice and say that’s really what I’m going to end up doing,” said Johnson. “These books are the process to get to the end of the tunnel.”

His first practice was with LensCrafters, where he worked for nine years, building up a base of more than 60,000 clients. Then he left corporate optometry for private practice, which now resides in a warm, contemporary studio on Perkins Road Extended at Poplar Avenue.

The mission, Johnson said, is to offer patients who are used to unknowledgeable staff a difference in care that encourages them to think more proactively about their eye health.

“I like all staff to consider anybody that they encounter, whether they walk in or are on the phone, to think of them as a patient,” said Johnson. “We spend time with the staff. We go over photos of different patients’ eyes that might have diabetes, or hypertension, so it really instills in them that they are really helping someone and not just selling glasses.

“They seem to love that. Given the opportunity, who doesn’t want to learn more?”

In the last three years, Johnson nearly doubled his staff to 11 based on an increase in patients.

Additionally, Johnson cross-trains his staff so that patients aren’t left waiting for one specific staff member, and he brings his opticians into the exam rooms to discuss patients’ conditions before sending them out to choose frames and lenses.

“(Other offices) are taking (patients’) orders and giving it to them,” said John Carter, a licensed optometrist at Eyewear Gallery for the last 15 years. “We see that on a regular basis. We take a lifestyle approach and ask questions. How do you use your glasses? Do you do computer work?

“We’re called in with the patient at the final part of the exam and (Johnson) reviews the patient’s conditions and we discuss things that might be beneficial to them. Then it’s our job to take them out and translate into what products meet those needs.”

Patients then fill out a written evaluation before leaving.

“They love to do that because most doctors’ offices don’t,” said Johnson. “Have you ever had your doctor ask you how you felt about the experience?”

The personal experience, Johnson said, encourages patients to take their vision health seriously, which is becoming more important with serious visual problems on the rise.

A 2010 survey by the American Optometric Association revealed that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74.

Diabetes can lead to glaucoma, early macular degeneration, and most commonly, diabetic retinopathy, in which the delicate blood vessels of the retina are weakened and bleed. Unmonitored hypertension can cause the same problems.

In 2009, the Florida Department of Health wrote in an article that approximately 12,000 to 24,000 people become blind due to complications of diabetes each year.

“The vision system is a reflection of what’s going on in the body,” said Johnson. “Whatever’s going on in the circulatory system is going to eventually affect vision because the circulatory system is what’s feeding the vision system.”

By training his staff to recognize symptoms of serious medical issues, staff members get a chance to do more than sell products.

Johnson maintains a relationship with his alma mater by working with prospective optometry students and graduates. Last year he took in a resident, a Ph.D. from Oxford University who needed practical experience before taking state and national board exams for licensure in the United States.

For each of the last three years, he has employed a college graduate in the application process for the Southern College of Optometry.

All of his staff take a personality inventory before being hired so that Johnson can match them with an area suited to their talents and make sure that his entire team will get along well.

“If the whole office staff isn’t working well together, it’s no fun to come to work for them or me,” said Johnson.

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