Olga Prenat: How did you come up with the idea for Treehouse Eyes?
Matt Oerding: We are an unlikely pair to be co-founders of the first company focused on treating myopic children. Dr. Gary Gerber, OD, was in private practice for 22 years in New Jersey, USA, and became known across the U.S. for his practice management expertise more than his clinical expertise. I was an industry executive at CIBA Vision and Alcon, running businesses around the world in both the vision care and ophthalmic surgical segments. But we shared a common interest and question—"Why don’t more eye care professionals proactively treat childhood myopia?” This question, more than anything, led to the creation of Treehouse Eyes. In 2015 Dr. Gerber grew frustrated by how few of his consulting clients (he also runs a practice management consultancy) took his advice to start offering pediatric myopia management services. The myopia trends were clear, and there is a vast untapped market that no one was yet focused on. He initially thought of opening his own private practice part-time focused just on myopia treatment, but quickly realized the global scale of the problem, and need for a more global solution. He reached out to me to discuss the issue, as we had known each other for over 18 years. After several months of research on the clinical and commercial elements of myopia management, we decided to start Treehouse Eyes.
Myopia management is still a new concept for the public, so it is critical that any practice offering this service do it the right way. Measuring axial length, customizing the treatment plan for each child using proven treatments, and marketing the service in a way that is easy for parents to understand are critical elements of a successful myopia management practice
OP: What makes the concept of Treehouse Eyes truly unique?
Matt: We are the only company focused on a simple mission— giving children better vision for life. Because myopia treatment is our sole focus, it gives us freedom to try new things, fail fast and learn. We formed an advisory board made up of some of the best optometrists and ophthalmologists on the planet when it comes to myopia, and worked with them to develop our clinical protocol, the Treehouse Vision System . This protocol leverages peer reviewed papers to give our doctors a guide to which myopia treatment is likely to work best for each individual child. This customized approach allows the eye doctor to focus on what is best for the patient, not what product or manufacturer they prefer to use. Currently this protocol incorporates three different treatment methods, all which have significant data on safety and efficacy for myopia management: custom overnight RGP contact lenses, customized multifocal soft contact lenses, and compounded atropine. Our advisors constantly review the latest data from around the world on various treatments so that our protocol can be adjusted as new treatments or new data become available. With almost five hundred children in myopia treatment at Treehouse Eyes, we currently have 60% in a customized overnight RGP, 21% in a multifocal soft lens and 19% in atropine (including some patients in combination therapy with atropine and a contact lens.).
OP: How has Treehouse Eyes evolved since 2015?
Matt: Since launching in 2015 with two dedicated flagship centers in the Washington, D.C. area, Treehouse Eyes has constantly refined our protocol, our processes in the centers and our marketing to parents and other health care professionals. This iterative and data-driven approach has allowed us to increase our close rate over 150%, generate referrals from over 150 optometrists, ophthalmologists and pediatricians, and reach over 1,000 children for initial consultations in just one city. This success led to the launch of eight more centers across the U.S. just announced in September. These eight centers are a different model, taking the Treehouse Eyes brand and partnering with full scope eye care practices to enable them to offer myopia management services to their patients and community. These full scope practices have the advantage of an existing patient base to tap into to market these services, as well as leveraging the marketing expertise of Treehouse Eyes to drive awareness in their community. After this initial wave of eight practices in 2019, we plan to offer twenty more across the U.S. in 2020, and are in discussions to take parts of this model to other countries.
OP: How is a Treehouse Eyes practice different from other clinical practices?
Matt: The Treehouse Eyes experience is meant to be different—because we only treat myopic children, the design of the center caters to parents and kids, and our staff are trained to ensure we put kids at ease to have an amazing experience. Our doctors do an initial consultation of one hour with each new patient, taking a detailed history, performing several clinical tests, including measuring axial length, and making a recommendation for treatment customized to each child. That recommendation is holistic, including actions they can take to help their child, like more outdoor play and minimizing where possible near work such as digital device use. Because of this approach, families get educated about myopia and have expectations set appropriately for treatment and results. Myopia management is still a new concept for the public, so it is critical that any practice offering this service do it the right way. Measuring axial length, customizing the treatment plan for each child using proven treatments, and marketing the service in a way that is easy for parents to understand are critical elements of a successful myopia management practice. It is hard work, but for those practices who want to make a huge difference in the vision and long-term eye health of children and be rewarded financially, the benefits more than make up for the journey.