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READER AND INDUSTRY FORUM

THE TRIALS OF MANAGING TRIAL CONTACT LENSES

Managing an eyecare practice isn’t easy; in fact, it’s hard. I want to explore one way to make it a little easier. When looking at ways to save on your cost of goods and marketing, we often overlook certain aspects of a practice as a necessary evil. Trial contact lenses fall into this gray area.

Technically, trial contact lenses do not generate revenue; but, they do support the generation of revenue by producing contact lens fits. The negative impact of having trial lenses, however, is that it can be a black hole of inefficiency. It’s the payroll hours that your practice staff spends on trial contact lenses that I would like to focus on to help widen your margin of profit.

First, Let’s Call It What It Is

To start, these are not trial lenses. They are diagnostic lenses, and we should refer to them as such. You may be wondering what the difference is, but just stay with me for a minute. In our current culture, the term “trial” is synonymous with terms such as “sample” or “free.” Products classified or viewed as trials or samples have a lower dollar value and/or a lower emotional value associated with them.

All of us, myself included, have reinforced this terminology in our daily interactions with patients and staff. On top of that, the manufacturers haven’t done us any favors by printing “Trial” or “Sample” all over the packaging. Far from being free, I could make a strong case that a diagnostic contact lens is one of the most expensive lenses produced. There are costs in every step of the process, with very little efficiencies; and, don’t forget the refrigerator-sized case.

In your practice, consider the time it takes to put away one revenue pack as compared to putting six single trial contact lenses into the proper slots. Our perspective should be that diagnostic lenses are being provided without charge—not free. It may seem trivial, but you should consider removing the word “trial” from your practice vocabulary.

If you can adopt the old-school terminology of saying “diagnostic lens” rather than “trial lens” within your practice, you’ll reap several benefits. First, the patients who show up needing a trial contact lens to carry them through until they can order more lenses will become less frequent. But, more importantly: when they ask you for one, and you use the sound bite, “Oh, you mean a diagnostic lens,” to clarify the patients’ request, it also helps you to step back and more objectively understand why your patients are now without contact lenses. Is it an economic issue, a poor maintenance schedule, or is their lifestyle not conducive to contact lenses? Or maybe patients just wear their lenses until they run out because they know that they can get free trial lenses from you until they order more. Whatever the reason, if we are going to improve our patients’ lives with better vision, we have to learn what’s hindering them and how your practice can eliminate this obstacle.

Also, by using the term “diagnostic lens,” our patients’ perspective will also be slightly altered; after all, “diagnostic” has different connotations compared to “trial,” and the word “diagnostic” itself doesn’t flow as well.

Finally, in changing your terminology from trial lens to diagnostic lens, the level of professionalism in your practice will improve internally with your staff as well as externally over time with your reputation. At the same time, your perspective toward “diagnostic lenses” will change.

Evaluate and Declutter

Way too many diagnostic sets are in offices today because the practice had to purchase the product or the set to start fitting the lenses or because there’s an emotional attachment. We need to check our emotions and objectively look at the sets we have in our practice.

If you haven’t fit a lens in the last six to 12 months, consider giving it an eviction notice. If you don’t know when you last used a lens, your manufacturer representative or distributor representative can provide reports to objectively help you analyze which sets should stay and which ones should probably go.

A few tips to consider: if every lens in a set is expired or expiring soon, the set should be pulled out. If the manufacturer is no longer making the lens and you still have a fitting set, first be ashamed, and then put the set out back. If you have any fitting sets packaged in cardboard, they probably deserve close scrutiny.

I’m not going to recommend a time frame for removing stale fitting sets, but I would encourage you to begin tracking when you last pulled a lens from each set. All of us have the tendency to confuse “just the other day” with something that happened six months ago.

Most diagnostic lens rooms I’ve explored are somewhat hidden from public view, so it’s hard to understand why the cabinets are designed so large when the actual product is less than 20% of the total footprint. Your practice can only handle so many super-sized cabinets, so if the fitting sets are not assisting in revenue generation, put them on probation.

A word of caution before you start the “extreme diagnostic lens makeover”: the diagnostic fitting sets technically belong to their manufacturers, and they maintain the right to reclaim their property. Therefore, it’s a good idea to involve your manufacturer or distributor representatives in this process.

If you are concerned that you might be offending your representatives by questioning the validity of their product in your office, don’t be. Most representatives are very aware of their products’ usage within your practice. Reaching out gives your representatives a chance to understand your practice, and ultimately, this knowledge will make them more successful down the road. Likewise, you don’t want to miss an opportunity with a lens because the fitting procedures weren’t explained well enough or because where to position the lens within your practice wasn’t clear. Being transparent and open minded will strengthen your partnership with your representatives.

Scanners Make It Easier

At “Utopia Family Eye Care,” when you pull a diagnostic lens from a fitting set, another lens suddenly appears, repopulating the vacant slot you just created. That might be the future of contact lens fitting sets, but until that fit-set from the future appears, the next best solution is a scanner. If you don’t have one, call your manufacturer representative or distributor representative and find out how to get one. In many (but not all) cases, these are provided at no charge (not free), and after using one you’ll wonder how you ever ordered diagnostic lenses before.

The most efficient way to use a scanner is to leave it in the diagnostic lens room or close to the fitting set area. Then, make a habit of scanning a diagnostic lens when it is removed from the fitting set. This method takes the least amount of payroll hours and helps this area stay organized and clean.

The second best method is to scan empty slots in the diagnostic lens trays once a week. With all other methods, the administrative cost will just climb, and efficiency will plummet.

Plugging the scanner in once a week transmits your order and lets the scanner recharge. In some cases, your diagnostic lens order is processed and packaged separately within your regular patient orders. This allows your staff to restock the fitting sets with as little time as possible. Waiting longer than a week increases the amount of time to sort and put diagnostic lenses away, and it increases the possibility of not having the right power available for other patients.

Get Organized

Your primary goal in using diagnostic contact lenses is to have the “go-to” lenses available for each patient. The secondary goal is managing the process as efficiently as possible to support the first goal. The efficiency only comes with a rigid and consistent routine in how diagnostic (not trial) lenses are processed in your practice. Get the most out of this often overlooked aspect of the office by following the simple advice provided here—and do it today. CLS