contact lens economics
What's Holding Back CL Growth?
BY GARY GERBER, OD
Regardless of your personal beliefs about refractive surgery, post-op statistics support that LASIK is an incredible procedure with a good safety record that, most of the time, delivers positive, life-altering results. Those of us who've co-managed even one successful, happy LASIK patient have probably heard our share of accolades. So why aren't more patients having refractive surgery? Most studies and industry experts cite fear of a bad outcome as the major obstacle to increased surgical volume.
This month's article isn't about refractive surgery. Rather, it's a discussion about why more patients don't wear contact lenses and why so many drop out of wearing their lenses. (You'll see the connection at the end of the article.)
Recognizing a Problem
We know most of the common reasons why people drop out of contact lens wear (dryness and end-of-day discomfort), yet we also know that newer modalities, materials and solutions have aimed at reducing all of these reasons. So why isn't the market growing when we have the tools to help it do so?
As LASIK is to RK, newer contact lenses and care systems are also technologically advanced far ahead of contact lenses from years past. If fear of a bad outcome is holding back LASIK growth, what's holding back contact lens growth?
The Wrong Attitude
Many doctors still perceive contact lenses as simply not worth the energy to fit. They see alternative dispensing as a profit drain on their bottom lines. "Why go through the aggravation of fitting a patient with contact lenses when they'll just wind up getting them on the Internet?" is becoming a common refrain.
To answer this question, for one thing, as with refractive surgery, contact lenses are a neat way to correct your patients' vision! Get back to basics and realize all of the benefits that first excited you about contact lenses when they used to prove profitable. Now, remove the profits and add even more benefits!
I don't expect you to work for free. But I will challenge you to look at the "big picture" of contact lens profit and realize that it's no longer in the lenses per se, but in the ability of happy and enthusiastic patients to send in their friends and family for professional services, which are still profitable.
As I've written before, over the years, the profit in a well-run contact lens practice has actually grown from where it was years ago -- if the practice transitions profits away from materials and into professional fees.
Related to this perceived lack of profit is the thought of many doctors that eyeglasses are still more profitable than contact lenses. Again, a big picture view proves that this is generally not the case. Contact lens patients stay with practices for longer periods of time, require more frequent (paying) professional visits, have a higher propensity for referrals and are more loyal -- even if they do buy their replacement contact lenses elsewhere.
Getting Things Straight
Eyeglasses are once again cool to wear! Newer frames and high-tech lenses compete with patient's vision-correction discretionary dollars. (The first sentence is correct. The second sentence, in my opinion, is dead wrong.)
Many doctors fail to realize that glasses and contact lenses don't compete with one another, rather they compliment each other. Astute practitioners should welcome improved eyeglasses and should embrace the opportunity to deliver a complete single unit vision correction solution for their patients.
It's not eyeglasses or contact lenses anymore -- it's now eyeglasses and contact lenses. So don't blame LASIK, the Internet or eyeglasses for the downturn in our contact lens practices.
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
Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: December 2004