Interview with KSA Founder and Ophthalmic Surgeon Dr. Ants Haavel on KSA's 18th Anniversary
KSA Vision Clinic celebrates its 18th anniversary! On this occasion, we decided to have a chat with Dr. Ants Haavel, the founder and ophthalmic surgeon of KSA Vision Clinic, who is the driving force behind the successful eye clinic and an indispensable part of its daily operations. Why did he decide to become a doctor? Where did the inspiration for establishing a modern eye center come from 18 years ago? How does he take care of his employees? And what does he do in his free time? You will find out all this and more in our new blog post!
Where did the idea to study medicine and the inspiration to establish KSA Vision Clinic come from?
According to Ants, the decision to study medicine was a natural choice for him because there were several doctors in his family. His six years of medical studies led him to residency. However, at that time, he felt that it was not possible to pursue residency with a monthly salary of 1000 Estonian kroons while taking care of his two small children and expecting a third. "Life took me away from medical studies for a while, and I started gaining experience in the field of entrepreneurship. Initially, a couple of friends and I were involved in the distribution of hygiene products and hospital supplies in the Baltic countries, and later in real estate. This continued until my aunt called and reminded me that five years had passed since university. That meant I had to choose a path to continue so that my completed exams would not expire," Ants recalls.
Ants couldn't immediately say which direction to choose in the field of medicine. To this day, it is unclear whether by chance or intentionally, but his sister asked him to accompany her son to an ophthalmologist. "When I entered the clinic, I was thrilled! My nephew's eye condition momentarily became a secondary issue, and the doctor spent half the time introducing me to various devices and diagnostic options," Ants laughs. That was the pivotal moment in his life when the decision to become an ophthalmologist was born.
But where did the idea to establish his own eye clinic come from? Ants' studies took him to India for internships, and from that inspiring experience, the idea to create a world-class eye center in Estonia was born. "Thanks to the capital gained from entrepreneurial experiences, we were able to buy the premises on the corner of Raua and Vilmsi streets, furnish them, acquire the initial diagnostic equipment, and a Zeiss laser. And that's how KSA Vision Clinic began," he explains.
The picture of dr Ants Haavel from the early years of KSA Vision Clinic
What was the vision for establishing KSA Vision Clinic 18 years ago, and has it remained the same or changed over time?
The vision for establishing the eye clinic was, from the beginning, to offer world-class options for eye diagnostics and vision correction surgeries that have a very positive impact on people's quality of life. This was to be done in a modern clinic with excellent customer service. "In the first year, we were searching for our niche and offered various laser surgeries, but as the years went by, we realized that focusing on a single procedure allows us to specialize in a specific area and raise the standards to a world-class level," explains Ants.
The decision to perform only one procedure and not follow the trend of offering a wide range of surgeries was made after thorough analysis. "We compared the advantages and disadvantages of different surgical techniques together with colleagues, consulted with experts from Europe and America, attended lectures at conferences, had conversations with lecturers behind the scenes, and, of course, thoroughly analyzed the results of performed surgeries and patient feedback. And I can say today that it was the right decision!" says Ants. "So, the original vision has remained the same, but thanks to the 'narrower path,' we have been able to refine that vision down to the smallest details and focus on doing one thing, but doing it extremely well," he adds.
Refractive surgery has evolved significantly over the years. Just a few decades ago, eye surgeries were performed manually with a blade, but now lasers have taken over in this field. How has KSA kept up with the changes in the field over the years?
"We joined the field of refractive surgery at a time when manual radial keratotomy had just ended in Estonia. At that time, the main method was LASIK, where an automated microkeratome made a corneal incision, and then the laser corrected the refractive error," recalls Ants.
Throughout the years, KSA Vision Clinic has always aimed to provide its clients with the best technology in terms of both diagnostics and lasers. "The principle that was taught to me in several reputable clinics is that you should never compromise on technology because it ensures better sleep for everyone later on. That's why we have been updating our lasers every 24 months for these 18 years, and since 2010, our partner has been the world-leading laser manufacturer, Schwind Eye Tech Solutions from Germany."
However, how have the clients' needs changed over the past 18 years? Is today's client more demanding than 18 years ago?
Ants admits that expectations have significantly increased over the years for both themselves and the clients. "Most of our clients come to us through recommendations, and everyone wants to have excellent vision after the recovery from the procedure. Another important factor for clients is the comfort of their eyes. Personally, I think about each individual and how to achieve the best possible outcome and perform the procedure as smoothly and pleasantly as possible for the client," says Ants.
And, of course, there is a strong correlation between excellent results and careful patient selection. "As the capabilities and level of diagnostic devices have greatly advanced over the years, thanks to our modern diagnostic equipment, we can be confident that we give the green light for laser procedures to the right patients and meet people's expectations," he explains.
In a recent customer feedback survey conducted by KSA Vision Clinic, it was revealed that 99% of respondents would recommend KSA to a friend or acquaintance who dreams of getting rid of myopia. This is a very high percentage, especially for a medical institution. What do you think is the reason behind this number?
"In refractive surgery, the satisfaction rate has always been high when clients are carefully selected for evaluations and the clinic has extensive experience. But of course, 99 % is a tremendous recognition! We see the expressions on our clients' faces every day, which shows us the impact of our results and gives all of us at KSA a lot of energy!" says Ants confidently.
KSA employees have, on average, a very long tenure. The average work experience of KSA optometrists is 8-9 years. There are also employees who celebrate their own 18-year anniversary at KSA along with the clinic's birthday. How do you motivate your employees as a company and support their professional development?
"In the early years, I constantly encouraged my colleagues to keep learning and took them to various overseas training sessions and conferences. They were all eager participants in lectures, but in the evenings, their feet would be sore from dancing!" he laughs. Throughout our operations, Ants has been guided by his most important business advice – to take joy in what we do. "Our work requires a lot of time and energy, but it should be enjoyable for both me and the employees. As long as all parties derive pleasure from the activity, work is not merely work but a pleasant endeavor!" Ants is certain.
He also adds that it has been a common practice at KSA for people to stay constantly updated with industry news and new trends. They attend trainings and conferences abroad and visit foreign clinics to learn from excellent colleagues worldwide. "KSA has highly professional and experienced optometrists, client advisors, and communication specialists. We have always valued the contributions of each position within the system, and I sincerely believe that all our people feel valued and supported," he concludes.
Is the KSA Vision Clinic's plan and goals for the next 18 years in place, or how do you envision the future?
"We look to the future with open eyes and constantly keep our finger on the pulse. The surrounding world is undergoing radical changes, and we must keep up with the trends. In any case, everything becomes increasingly interesting!"
But enough about work now. Please tell me more about what you do when you're not at the KSA Vision Clinic. What are your hobbies and passions?
"I have always enjoyed reading. And, of course, sailing, both in summer and on the ice in winter. Sailing is pure euphoria and freedom, but fortunately or unfortunately, I haven't experienced an overdose yet!" he laughs.
How do you plan to celebrate the KSA Vision Clinic's birthday this year?
"This year, we will take it easy, and the plan is to have a nice dinner with colleagues at a good downtown restaurant. And, as every year, we have exciting and motivating offers and surprises for our new and loyal customers during the birthday week," summarizes Ants.