contact lens economics
Give Your Contact Lens
Patients Instant Gratification
BY GARY GERBER, OD
As you finish your eye examination with your spherical myopic patient, you say to him, "I
understand you do not want to wear contact lenses, so let's talk about eyeglasses. For your new glasses, we should use an eyeglass lens that's made of plastic and gets darker when you go outside. Also, your prescription would work great with a new lightweight titanium frame."
"Sounds like a plan," says the patient.
"Let's go to the front desk and schedule a time when you can come back and look at some frames," you say.
A bit perplexed, the patient responds, "Can't I do that now?"
"Oh no. We need one of our expert opticians available to help you choose a frame that's right for you and to take all the necessary measurements."
Eyeglasses vs. Contact Lenses
You're right that probably never happens with eyeglasses. But with contact lenses, it happens all the time. We conducted a recent phone study in which about 40 percent of offices we called told us that if we wanted contact lenses, we would have to come back after our initial examination. The reasons for the return visit were for the contact lens fitting itself and the ensuing training to learn how to use the lenses.
While practitioners can't imagine extending a patient's frame selection beyond his examination day, many practices routinely delay subsequent visits with contact lenses.
The reason I hear most often is, "A contact lens technician is not always available."
Why We Need to Avoid This
Think of a recent purchase you made that involved some prior research and considerable expense, such as a TV, a digital camera or a car. After doing your homework and deciding to buy, you went shopping. Finding just the right camera, cash in hand, you approached the cashier. "That's a great choice. You can come back and pick it up next week."
What? I don't want to wait until next week. I'm excited and enthused TODAY RIGHT NOW! Lots can happen between now and next week. I can find another camera, decide to buy the TV instead or even buy the camera elsewhere.
Like cameras, contact lenses are typically purchased with the "retail" side of a patient's brain and not the "medical" side. Patients pay for lenses with discretionary funds the same funds that could be used to buy the camera. Patients typically view contact lenses as non-essentials and relegate them to a position of importance beneath eyeglasses.
The 40 percent of practices who told us they would delay the fitting have also diminished the importance of contact lenses. How would their office procedures and staffing be different if contact lenses were invented before eyeglasses? No doubt patients wanting lenses would be fit and receive training the same day.
Fix the Problem and Build Your Practice
As with any problem, the first step is recognizing it exists. Next, do a better job pre-interviewing patients on the phone. If you really want to build your contact lens practice, recognize that most patients who want to wear contact lenses can. Consider cross-training your staff with a goal of eliminating the position of "contact lens technician." Rather, make sure all employees can pitch in when necessary.
Delaying a patient's purchase when he is ready to buy doesn't make much sense and will decrease his enthusiasm and excitement about an event that should be memorable and positive.
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: March 2003