contact lens economics
Two Failsafe Ways to Boost Practice Growth
BY WALTER D. WEST, OD, FAAO
An aggressive annual recall program is critical to the health of your contact lens practice. Proactively recommending direct lens shipping to patients further entrenches your practice as the only provider that the patient considers.
The Switch to Direct Shipping
Over the past several years, our practice has transitioned from an inventory-based to a direct shipment delivery system for the majority of our disposable contact lens patients. This has a positive effect on cash flow. Rather than purchasing a large inventory and selling it to patients over time, we now receive payment from the patient prior to ordering his supply from the manufacturer. We sometimes receive his payment nearly six weeks before our payment is due to the manufacturer!
We still maintain an inventory of lenses, but on a much smaller scale. Your manufacturer's representative can help you determine a proper allocation if you decide to go this route. The sales rep should have your historical information on the percentage of their lenses you ship vs. inventory.
To effectively transition your practice from inventory to direct-shipment, create scripted dialogues for your staff so they can properly teach patients about the benefits of an annual purchase.
A staff member asking, "How many boxes do you want?" will not be nearly as successful as one stating, "John, the doctor has approved you for an annual supply. Shall we ship that to your office or home address?" The staff member can then inform the patient of the cost, any rebate offers and shipping fees. Some products have a manufacturer's rebate attached to an annual supply, which patients find attractive. Shipping fees are typically waived for an annual supply order, an additional attraction for the patient. Most of our disposable lens patients order in this manner.
Once out of the shopping loop, patients are no longer attentive to advertising from other lens providers. Many practitioners are concerned about competition from alternative supply channels such as mail order and Internet, yet data indicates that about 70 percent of patients expect to receive eyecare information from their practitioner not from the Internet or a toll-free number.
Some practitioners fear that if a patient buys an annual supply of lenses, he will stretch his replacement schedule and not return for scheduled examinations. The opposite is actually the case. Known business principles tell us that the more product a consumer has, the faster he will consume it. This is true whether the consumable product is toothpaste, ketchup, golf tees or contact lenses. Providing the patient with a smaller quantity virtually guarantees that he will stretch his wearing schedule, as well as ask your staff for additional "free" diagnostics to tide him over, costing you revenue in the form of lost lens sales.
A Friendly Reminder
In a recent AOA survey, nearly 65 percent of respondents said they receive an annual eye examination. More than half of the respondents said they realized it was time for their regular examination or they were reminded by their practitioner. Only 11 percent returned for care because they felt they needed new lenses.
Your patients chose you as their eye doctor; they expect you to provide eye health information and to notify them when they are due back for re-examination. Some practitioners say that patients don't pay attention to recall, or come in when they are having a problem or when they finally run out of lenses. The AOA survey shows that this is not true, and that the more emphasis practitioners place on the importance of routine eyecare, the more important it is to the patient.
Dr. West practices in Brentwood, TN, and lectures nationally and internationally on contact lens and practice management topics.