Article Date: 11/1/2005

contact lens economics
How Your Fitting Process Influences Patient Perception
BY GARY GERBER, OD

Do we fit contact lenses to eyes or eyes to contact lenses? We certainly tell patients the former, but with most soft contact lenses, don't we really do the latter? After all, while we don't (yet) have a "one size" fits all contact lens, an 8.6mm base curve, 14mm diameter lens fits more than one patient's eyes. It is indeed this ease of "fitting" lenses that has led to some of the current commoditization of contact lenses. When we try on a disposable lens, are we "fitting" a lens to a particular patient or simply "choosing" a lens from our trial inventory?

With so many obvious external pressures on the economics of our practices — third-party payers (or more correctly non-payers) alternative dispensing and increased regulations, we must try our best to modulate the internal stressors that we do have control over. And some of these negative forces are quite subtle and nearly invisible.

Patient Perception

As I just mentioned, if patients perceive our fitting process as no more than approaching a wall full of contact lenses and choosing the correct ones, can we blame them for asking at the front desk, "$87 for a contact lens fitting? What fitting?"

Here's a tip we've gathered through working with our client practices that can help improve patient perception of the fitting process as requiring the high level of skill that it genuinely does.

Many practices have their contact lens trial inventories in full view of their patients. We recommend against that. We believe this reinforces the perception that the patient's eye is fit to the available lens choices instead of the lens being fit to the patient.

Skeptics of this often tell me, "Gary, if the patient is so smart, let him stand in front of my wall of lenses and pick the best ones!" We know it's not just about picking the lens — yet physically doing so reinforces the myth that it is. By eliminating this step it's never brought up to the patient.

If you successfully fit the patient with the first lens you choose from your trial inventory, as is often the case nowadays, then let the patient know why. Your large and carefully selected inventory helped expedite the process, but your acumen and experience as a contact lens expert are the reasons you fit them so efficiently. After all, the more experienced you are, the quicker you should be able to arrive at a solution to a patient's problem. In this case, that means fitting the patient with the appropriate contact lenses.

The Custom Concept

Relative to this concept are practices who promote "Same-day fitting." I'm a proponent of making customer service for patients as friendly and convenient as possible. I also advocate fitting patients on the same day as their exam if possible, but I don't believe practices should promote or advertise it. Similar to displaying your trial lens inventory, promoting same-day fitting tells patients that their lenses probably aren't customized for their eyes and that you're fitting an "off the rack" lens.

Instead, take advantage of the unexpected customer service surprise and tell patients that you just happen to have their lenses in stock. What luck! Presenting it this way puts the lenses in more of a custom light and makes them less of a commodity.

A Deserved Status

None of these suggestions should be taken as being done surreptitiously or with an aim at deceiving our patients. Rather, view them as tools to help bolster what has become an everyday object in the eyes of patients back to its proper and deserved status as a medical device.

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: November 2005