Article Date: 1/1/2004

contact lens economics
Learn to Love Direct-to-Consumer Advertising
BY GARY GERBER, OD

"So, how did you hear about our office?" Dr. Maverick asks his new patient.

"My friend was fit with those new super duper oxygen lenses and she really thinks they're great. I

I thought I'd try them too. Can I wear them?" Mrs. Wantem asks.

"Possibly. I need to examine your eyes first and see if they are appropriate for you. If they are, then we can try them," he replies.

Sounds like a conversation most of us have at least a few times each week. When your current patients enjoy their contact lenses and share their enthusiasm with friends, it can result in referrals of new patients. Indeed, the reason for the referral is often the lenses' performance and not the doctor who fit them. Few of us seem to have problems with these referrals, and most would graciously welcome these patients in our practices.

Now, let's fast forward to another typical interaction with another patient.

 

Consider These Points to Help Check Your Anger

 

1 A new patient is a new patient. If the lenses are appropriate for the patient, then there's no harm in fitting them. If they're not appropriate, then fit him with something that is and enjoy the free advertising.

2 While it doesn't make it "right," DTC advertising by the pharmaceutical industry has reached a feverish pace and has become a part of our media culture. There is plenty of "Ask your doctor..." going on, and contact lenses are part of the same advertising scheme.

3 Patients are now participating more actively in their own care than at any time in history. We can thank the Internet for this as well as DTC advertising. Go with it and make it a positive. Tell patients, "Yes, I saw that ad on TV" and then say, "If the lenses are right for you, then we'll try them."

As Seen on TV

"So, how did you hear about our office?" Dr. Maverick asks his new patient.

"I heard about these new super duper oxygen lenses on TV and would like to try them."

Flabbergasted by the gall of someone who asks for an FDA prescription-regulated device just because he saw it on a TV commercial, Dr. Maverick exhales, "Well! You can't go by what you hear on TV. I first need to examine your eyes, you know. Those silly TV commercials would have you believe that anybody can wear those contact lenses, and that's just not true! I am your eye doctor and only I know what you can wear -- not some TV pitchman."

Whoa...why so defensive? Aren't both patients asking for the same lenses? Wasn't your external marketing cost (namely nothing) to capture each new patient the same? After all, haven't you just acquired two new patients whose motivation for contacting you was exactly the same?

DTC Ads Bring in Patients

I've heard countless times from hundreds of doctors, "I hate when patients see those TV ads and tell me what lenses they want. I'm the doctor. I'll make that decision."

If you're a doctor who scorns what the industry refers to as direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, I ask you to reconsider your position and the source of your anger (See sidebar at left).

Company-sponsored advertising doesn't require you to abdicate your prescribing responsibility or skills. You still must be a new patient's doctor -- just as if a current patient referred him.

The next time you hear a commercial that says to your prospective patients, "Ask your doctor if Super Duper is right for you," ask yourself why you're so upset when they ask.

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.

 


Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: January 2004