As we adapt post-COVID, digital device use has become more common in daily life—and in many cases integral—for children, young adults, and adults. Digital devices include desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. Extended periods using these devices are associated with ocular symptoms and physical discomfort.1-3 As many as 90% of digital device users experience symptoms of digital eye strain (DES).1

DES is often multifactorial; refractive and ocular surface anomalies combine with where (the environmental condition) and when (the physical set up) the devices are used. A holistic approach to managing the condition is

necessary for both existing contact lens wearers and those new to contact lenses.1

Digital natives—tweens, teens, and young adults—were already vulnerable to the ocular consequences of extended digital device use. Are you ready to discuss DES with patients who were previously unaffected or unaware that dry eyes, headaches, or blurred vision could be caused by too much time staring at a digital device under poor environmental conditions?

In this ECP Viewpoints post, we will describe approaches for your practice to reach digital natives and have productive conversations about alleviating digital eye strain.

An Untapped Market

Digital natives are a largely untapped market for your practice. US census data from 2020 indicates that nearly 20% of the US population, or approximately 67 million people, can be categorized as Gen Z or digital natives.4 This generation also makes up 40% of consumers, with a collective $143 billion in buying power.5 And don't forget to factor in the parents of tweens and teens who may not be making their own purchases yet.

It's important to note that very few digital natives who could be appropriate for contact lenses are actually wearing them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 8% of contact wearers are under age 18, and 17% of contact lens wearers are between the ages of 18 to 24.6

Establishing long-lasting relationships with the digital native population can help your practice thrive.

Tip 1: Initiate the Conversation

You may discover that digital eye strain affects people who least expect it. While parents or caregivers may be concerned about the long-term impacts of device use and perhaps have experienced digital eye strain themselves, their teens and college-age children may not be aware of the problem. Students (adolescents through college age) who have been on devices their whole lives may attribute their symptoms to other lifestyle factors.

Initiating the conversation can take the form of a simple screening for digital eye strain. Rather than asking patients if they use digital devices, perhaps the more helpful approach is to ask how many types of screens they use regularly and for how long each day.

It's important not to let patients of any age assume that they should expect eye strain and fatigue side effects from sustained screen viewing. Proactive questioning and appropriate refractive and ocular surface assessment will help elicit issues, providing greater opportunity for the eye care professional (ECP) to intervene with advice and management strategies.

Tip 2: Be mindful of the broad age range and distinctive characteristics of the digital native cohort

The digital native cohort includes individuals born after 1995 and before 2015, encompassing current-day tweens, teens, and young adults.7-9 Reaching digital natives is different from reaching other generations. Not all messages or approaches to digital eye strain will resonate with each age group. In addition, digital device habits and usage patterns will vary. Being mindful of this will help you offer appropriate, tailored management solutions.

Tip 3: Start with parents or caregivers

Begin your conversations with parents or caregivers during annual back-to-school exams. You might learn that they're concerned about the impact of digital device use on their children's developing eyes. One pre-pandemic survey found that almost half of adults with children under age 18 are somewhat concerned, and 22% are very concerned about the impact of digital devices – that's nearly 3 out of 4 parents who are worried to some degree about digital eye strain.10

Tip 4: Don't "dumb down" the conversation about digital eye strain and solutions

Generation Z (Gen Z) is the most educated generation yet, and they are more likely than previous generations to have a college-educated parent.7 You may recall that Gen Z makes up the older group in the digital native cohort. Because they are highly-educated and savvy, this age group may tune out over-simplified explanations. They may appreciate learning about the technical specifications and science behind today's innovative contact lens products. Share the rationale and evidence behind your approach to managing DES.

Tip 5: Emphasize the unique when describing solutions to digital eye strain

In addition to being highly educated, many digital natives find unique and differentiated products attractive. Gen Z, in particular, wants to stand out. They are less motivated to buy a specific brand or desire to "fit in" than previous generations. Instead, they search for unique products and experiences that enrich their lives.11 Describing what differentiates your practice's offerings is one approach. Your approach could extend correcting vision to get the most out of their time on devices—while improving long-term eye health and vision.

Tip 6: Connect by committing to your digital presence

Connect with digital natives where they prefer to be – online. This tip is sort of a no-brainer but also critical for success.

Consumers are window shopping online and gathering information about eyewear for future eyewear purchases. In fact, consumers are using the internet now more than ever before to research eyewear brands and where they can purchase said brands. Social media is a powerful way to reach the digital native generation.7 They are more likely than other generations to browse and shop in shopping apps or social media channels. 9 Preferred platforms include Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok.8

That said, brick-and-mortar shopping isn't going away anytime soon, especially in the eye care space. 69% of Gen Zers will visit a store after seeing a retailer's social media post.7 Consumers are still getting used to purchasing eyewear online, so there's an opportunity for your practice to be at the leading edge. A recent report from the Vision Council indicated that 48% of recent buyers used the internet to any extent during their last contact lens purchase and that younger Americans are more likely to use the internet when purchasing eyewear.12 Online usage when shopping for contact lenses witnessed strong growth in 2020.13,14

Your practice can set itself apart by providing that information in posts on social platforms preferred by this younger generation of consumers. This doesn't mean you should go all out creating a profile for your practice on every social platform. If you already have a Facebook page, for example, use it to share information about the eyewear products you carry and about what makes your practice different. For example, post about how Biofinity Energys® can help with eye tiredness and dryness associated with digital eye strain. Leverage the digital assets that eye care companies provide. They can be product-agnostic and still drive interest in your practice—remember, digital natives are highly educated and want unique, enriching experiences. Consider customizing general images about digital eye strain with your own messages.

Conclusion

Drive growth and patient satisfaction by putting effort towards addressing digital eye strain in the digital native patient population. Upgrade monthly or 2-week lens wearers. Encourage infrequent contact lens wearers to upgrade to a lens that was designed for today’s digital lifestyle. And as you build confidence, seek out patients who are new to your practice or new to contact lenses and talk to them about ways to alleviate digital eye strain

REFERENCES

  1. Coles-Brennan C, Sulley A, Young G. Management of digital eye strain. Clin Exp Optom. 2019;102(1):18-29. doi:10.1111/cxo.12798
  2. Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ Open Ophthalmol. 2018;3(1):e000146. doi:10.1136/bmjophth-2018-000146
  3. Contact Lens Spectrum. Continuing education: keeping up with ocular fatigue in the digital era. 2016;31:3-10. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://www.clspectrum.com/supplements/2016/june-2016/continuing-education-keeping-up-with-ocular-fatig/continuing-education-keeping-up-with-ocular-fatig
  4. Statista Research Department. Resident population in the United States in 2020, by generation (in millions). July 27, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/797321/us-population-by-generation/
  5. Frey WH. What the 2020 census will reveal about America: Stagnating growth, an aging population, and youthful diversity. Brookings. January 11, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-the-2020-census-will-reveal-about-america-stagnating-growth-an-aging-population-and-youthful-diversity/
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health contact lens wear and care: fast facts. July 26, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/fast-facts.html
  7. Parker K, Igielnik R. On the cusp of adulthood and facing an uncertain future: what we know about Gen Z so far. May 14, 2020. Accessed January 1, 2022. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/
  8. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. What are the core characteristics of Generation Z? January 12, 2021. Updated April 14, 2021. Accessed January 1, 2022. https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-are-the-core-characteristics-of-generation-z
  9. Rekos M. What makes Gen Z click. Presented at: the North Carolina Independent Colleges & Universities Administrative Meeting Group; January 8, 2020. Accessed January 3, 2022. https://ncicu.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/What-Makes-Gen-Z-Click-NCICU-01082020.pdf
  10. The Vision Council Research. October 2014 Vison Council VisionWatch digital eye strain report.
  11. Bhargava S, Finneman B, Schmidt J, Spagnuolo E. The young and the restless: Generation Z in America. McKinsey & Company. March 20, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2021. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/the-young-and-the-restless-generation-z-in-america
  12. The Vision Council Research. Internet Influence Report 2020.
  13. The Vision Council Research. VisionWatch Internet Influence Report
  14. CooperVision COVID Consumer Pulse survey, US market
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