contact lens economics
Strike (Fit) While the Iron
(Patient) Is Hot (Interested)
BY GARY GERBER, OD
At the conclusion of your examination, you ask Mrs. Eyeglasses, "Have you ever thought of wearing contact lenses?"
"Actually no, I hadn't. Can I wear them? I'd
love to get rid of these glasses."
"Yes, you can," you say. "Prescriptions like yours do really well with contact lenses. Would you like to try them?"
So far so good...
"Let's go ahead and reschedule you to come back for a lens fitting next Thursday afternoon at 3:15."
Yes, I know it takes the doctor more time to fit a new patient with contact lenses. Yes, I know the doctor had another patient waiting. But I also know he had a patient who was primed to join the legions of happy contact lens wearers just get away.
Scheduling conflicts, you say?
Remember that 76 percent of buying decisions are made at the place of purchase. That means that you have only about a one in four chance that after the patient leaves the office, he will continue to be interested enough in lenses to return for a fitting.
What about insertion and removal training? Once your patient is finally fit (hopefully when he is most excited about getting his new contact lenses and not days later), are you like some of the doctors I've seen who will have the patient return for yet another visit to teach him how to use his lenses?
Think about how you've felt when it's taken your dentist more than one visit to work on the same tooth. Many of us would prefer, if clinically feasible, to have all of the work done at one visit instead of having to be inconvenienced and return.
Anything that can make you more efficient is what you should be doing to help streamline your fitting and follow-up process. If patients never had to return to your office, they wouldn't. No matter how pleasant an experience you make it, patients would rather spend their time doing something they want to do instead of doing something they have to do.
Employ technology that can speed things up and allow for delegation of tasks. Auto-refraction, auto-refraction over contact lenses, corneal topography (or teach someone how to use your manual keratometer), visual acuity measurements, etc., are all tasks that are easily delegated to save time. And yes, refraction or at least over-refraction of contact lenses, can also be done by someone other than yourself.
Make sure office forms are as efficient and easy to use as possible. Spend time training and cross-training staff so that in situations like the one above, your "eyeglass dispenser" can chip in and teach your patient how to wear his contact lenses. Work on your telephone pre-interview questions to determine which patients might be interested in lenses and schedule accordingly. Put information about lenses on your website so they can start learning about lenses ahead of time.
For most patients, contact lenses are discretionary purchases. They are seen as a luxury replacement or substitute for eyeglasses. Therefore, as with any retail buying decision, we should "strike while the iron is hot" and try to "close" the patient when he is most interested not at some time in the future.
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. He can be reached at 800-867-9303 or
Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: May 2002