Boosting Your Contact Lens Practice Profitability
Changing your "habits" gives you an edge on
the competition and retains your contact lens patients.
By Dave A. Ziegler, OD
contact lenses still a profitable enterprise for today's eyecare practice? Across
the country I hear from practitioners disappointed in what their contact lens practices
These eyecare practitioners see the profit from
the sale of materials disappearing because of numerous alternative contact lens
sources. Each day brings more faxes from 1-800 Contacts to their desks. As far as
many eyecare practitioners are concerned, contact lenses have become a commodity
driven by the lowest price.
These practitioners respond by switching
to the latest "hard-to-get" brand, with promises from the manufacturer that patients
won't be able to find this lens online. Or they explore private-label brands to
discourage the contact lens price shopper. But it seems that all lenses eventually
end up online, and practitioners learn that this isn't something they can run and
This sounds like a pretty bleak scenario,
doesn't it? Is it time to quit fitting contact lenses and look for other profit
centers for our practices?
I believe that times have never been
better to develop your contact lens practice, to remain profitable, and keep the
best interest of your patients in mind. You just have to change, that's all!
What worked in the past won't work
in today's marketplace, and certainly won't take you into the future. I'm going
to borrow some thoughts from Stephen R. Covey's great book, The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People, to show you how to increase your contact lens profitability
in this changing environment.
The best way to restore the profitability of your
contact lens practice is to establish profitability in your contact lens services.
This essentially shifts some of your profit from the mark-up on materials to the
professional services and expertise that you provide to your patient. These are
contact lens professional fees you charge to the patient in addition to your routine
comprehensive examination fees.
You perform a different collection of tests
for a contact lens wearer. These tests may include a different patient history;
contact lens corrected visual acuities; a biomicroscopic evaluation of the cornea,
palpebral conjunctiva and tear films; and corneal topography. In addition, there's
your decision-making process to determine the new contact lens prescription, with
a possible over-refraction and another slit lamp examination.
Sometimes this process is very easy,
as in the case of an asymptomatic spherical disposable soft lens wearer. Other times
it's not. The ease of the case shouldn't determine whether you charge a professional
fee. If you have hypertension and visit your internist to find that your blood pressure
is well-controlled and no change in medication is needed, you don't expect that
evaluation to be free! So even if you find no change in the contact lens prescription,
your time and expertise justifies the contact lens professional fee.
Create a variety of fees for different
contact lens patients so that more complicated cases such as bifocal or toric contact
lens wearers have higher fees. Then be proactive by giving the patient a question
and answer sheet when he checks in with the receptionist that explains your policy
on professional fees. This document sets the stage for the visit by addressing the
five most common questions a patient would have about your fees.
Here are some sample questions and
answers we include in our handout.
What are contact lens professional
fees for? As a contact lens wearer, additional tests are done for you that
are necessary to make sure your eyes are healthy, that your lenses fit properly
and to ensure that you're seeing as well as possible. Contact lens professional
fees are for the extra testing and time that the staff and doctor take each year
to properly evaluate your contact lenses.
What types of additional
tests are needed? Corneal topography is one example of a test done for contact
lens wearers. With this computerized data we can detect any undesirable changes
of the cornea that may occur from wearing contact lenses. A second test uses the
microscope to examine the fit of the contact lens and the health of the cornea.
Thirdly, we perform prescription measurements, which are different from those for
Isn't this part of my annual
exam? We perform these contact lens-related tests in addition to the eye examination.
These are procedures that we need to perform for contact lens wearers, and less
frequently for patients who have corneal problems who don't wear contact lenses.
Doesn't my insurance cover
contact lens professional fees? It depends on your plan's coverage. Most insurance
plans cover a comprehensive eye exam that determines your glasses prescription and
evaluates your eye health. Contact lens services are separate procedures that often
aren't covered by insurance.
How much does it cost?
Depending on the type of lenses you wear, the costs range from $____ to $____ annually.
Patients don't want to hear about fees
at the end of the examination when they're checking out. When you proactively inform
them at the start of the visit, they will accept them. If the patient refuses to
accept your fees, which rarely happens, inform him that you'll be able to provide
him with a spectacle lens prescription at the conclusion of the examination.
HABIT # 2
Begin with the End in Mind
While patients want choices with their health
care, the sheer number of contact lens options can be overwhelming. You have to
simplify the decision-making process for your patients. Consumers make their best
decisions when three choices are available. More choices make more confusion.
For spherical soft disposables, we offer daily
disposables, two-week disposables and monthly continuous wear. At the outset of
the exam you should have an idea of the best lens option for that patient, and by
doing so, you're beginning with the end in mind. Our contact lens brochures provide
the features and benefits of each modality to assist the patient with his decision.
My personal preference is a daily disposable lens, so that's what I often recommend.
HABIT # 3
Put First Things First
The "first thing" is that your patient came to
see you to get a comprehensive eye health exam and your recommendation on the best
contact lens for his needs. So make sure to thoroughly evaluate the anterior segment
and use the best and newest lenses that our industry has to offer. Invest in new
equipment so you're offering the best care available. That's putting first things
HABIT # 4
Patients think that the box of lenses that you
sell is the same as the box they can buy anywhere. And they're right! So how do
you keep the patient in your practice? You can do it by being competitive with mail
order suppliers and keeping your prices in line with their prices. Because you've
shifted more of your profit to the professional fees, you can afford to reduce your
product mark-up and retain the patient's lens purchase.
Consumers aren't necessarily looking
for the lowest price, just a fair and honest price. They probably would rather buy
lenses from you, as long as you're competitive. So make it a win-win situation.
Present patients with a simple price comparison chart that shows your fair pricing.
In addition, use this document to explain the other advantages of buying from you
such as free samples to replace ripped or lost lenses, or an exchange of unopened
boxes if the prescription changes. You receive a moderate margin on materials as
well as your professional fees, and they get a fair price. It's a win-win.
HABIT # 5
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
When a patient orders his lenses from an alternative
source, many doctors don't really understand how the patient could do this to them.
The doctor and staff may become defensive, resistant or even resentful of the patient
who seeks lenses elsewhere.
You have to listen with the intent to understand.
Get inside the patient's perspective. It's the consumer's job to question price.
It's your job to establish value. You must demonstrate value in the contact lens
services you provide and be price-competitive or you'll lose the patient.
HABIT # 6
Develop strong relationships with your contact
lens representatives. They provide valuable information on new products, provide
trial lenses and train your staff. These highly trained yet under-utilized professionals
are your business partners. When you work with them your practice benefits.
HABIT # 7
Sharpen the Saw
Renew your skills through continuing education
and investing in new technology. Expand into specialty products such as post-refractive
surgery reverse geometry lenses, bifocal contact lenses, new torics and corneal
reshaping. There are so many great new contact lens products. We can fit more patients
who desire contact lenses than ever before. Isn't it a great time to be a contact
Dr. Ziegler's patient handouts and
price comparison charts.
Dr. Ziegler is a 1981 graduate of the Southern
California College of Optometry. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry
and the senior partner in a group practice in Milwaukee, WI. He performs clinical
research for Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, CIBA Vision and Vistakon.
Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: September 2005