contact lens economics
"We Have What You've Been Waiting For"
BY GARY GERBER, OD
"What brings you in today, Mrs. Wantlenses?"
"I'd like to get the same contact lenses my third cousin has. They're soft bifocal lenses that glow in the dark, correct her astigmatism and get darker when she goes outside, and she can sleep in them for 11 years at a time. Do you have those, doc?"
I know what you're thinking -- these types of patient comments only happen in my client's practices, never in yours. Well, just in case you do get comments such as these, I'd like to tell you how we advise our clients to handle them.
Keep Your Mind on Tomorrow
While we've certainly had a consistent flurry of new contact lens products and technologies over the last few years, we still can't fit absolutely every patient with any given modality. We can't mix and match modalities and parameters without limitations (at least not yet). However, if I say, "We'll never have a daily disposable, toric, photochromic, higher-order-aberration-correcting contact lens," then I have strong suspicions that I'll feel foolish in a few years for expressing such a myopic prognostication.
So how do you handle those dwindling numbers of patients whom you just can't fit today, or those who, such as the one above, are just plain misinformed?
Make a List and Check it Twice
The truth is that we most likely will one day have contact lenses to fit these patients. So I advise my clients to tell their patients, "We don't have that particular contact lens available today, but we will soon. And when we do, I'll call you right away." Then, let each patient see you enter his name on a list in your practice-building software. Tell him, "I'll add you to this list. That way we can contact you immediately when your contact lenses become available."
You should generally consider two types of patients for this list. First, add patients who were unsuccessful with their current contact lenses and who have dropped out of lens wear. Let these patients know at their "final" visit that they're dropping out temporarily. Assure them that whatever the issue is, whether it's end-of-day dryness, poor presbyopic correction, etc., that you're staying on top of it as you continually search for better solutions for your patients.
Second, add to this list patients who, as described earlier, need technology that isn't ready just yet. We've often had clients convert these patients from a "wait and see" posture to active and happy contact lens wearers. Consider this interaction with a presbyopic eyeglass wearer who wants a bifocal contact lens that isn't available because of, for example, a combination of unusual corneal curvature and high power:
"Mr. SteepK, I know that you'd like the same bifocal contact lenses as your wife. But your cornea is shaped in such a way that I can't do that -- today. However, what I will do today is put you in a holding pattern until those lenses are available. I'll do that by fitting you with a monovision prescription."
While not the ideal situation for this patient, you've at least alerted him that he can start wearing lenses now and you've informed him that he need not wait for (his version of) the perfect contact lens.
Tell the Good News
Once contact lenses become available for patients on your list, make sure you notify them immediately. Nothing will deflate this marketing attempt more than someone other than you informing your patients about what they've been waiting for -- whether they hear it through the media or from a competitor.
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.