Article Date: 5/1/2006

readers' forum
Encouraging Patients to Purchase a One-Year Supply
BY DAVID M. PEARCE

I have read many articles on the value of sending patients home with a one-year supply of contact lenses. I think most practitioners understand that it's good for their patients and good for their practice. However, somewhere between the articles explaining why it's important and the patient walking out of the practice with one or two boxes of lenses, the patient isn't getting the message.

While most eyecare practitioners and their staff don't consider themselves salespeople, the fact remains that oftentimes you have to play that role. Selling often has negative connotations, but you can do it in a professional and educational way. For many practitioners, the obstacle is simply not knowing or not being comfortable with how to overcome the primary objection...patients not wanting to spend the money.

A Common Scenario

Oftentimes after you've completed a contact lens exam and presented your patient with the option of purchasing a one-year supply of lenses, the patient will balk at the price and say, "I don't really want to spend that much money today. I'd like to purchase just two boxes."

Following is an explanation that may help you encourage such patients to purchase a one-year supply. While this technique won't work on all of your patients, it will increase the number of patients who get the message. With practice and repetition, you'll see marked improvement in cash flow, patient satisfaction and retention.

First, tell such patients that their reaction is a very common one and that you understand they have other "necessities" that they'd rather spend their money on. Many patients don't consider spending money on contact lenses as an investment in their vision health, so you need to help them see things from a different perspective to change their minds.

First explain the economic benefits. Ask if they've ever shopped at BJ's, Sam's or other similar wholesale stores. These stores offer bulk or volume pricing discounts on a per unit basis. For example, if you use paper towels regularly, you can save money by buying a 20-pack at $0.80 per roll vs. buying 20 individual rolls at $1.49 over the next 6 months — in the meantime you may second guess yourself for buying them individually when you go to clean up a big spill and realize you ran out.

Explain that the same is true for contact lenses. Patients simply pay more per box when they purchase only one or two boxes at a time rather than if they were to buy six or eight boxes at one time. Plus they won't have to worry about what to do when they realize they don't have another set of lenses right before they're set to go on a two-week vacation/trip.

If the up-front savings aren't enough for patients to make the decision to order a one-year supply, give them an even more important reason: Prolonged or extended wearing of lenses beyond their intended useful life is a leading cause of contact lens complications. Say, for example, a patient is wearing his last set of two-week lenses and he forgets to call you to reorder. Most patients will extend the lens life an extra week or two, sometimes up to several months — because they still see fine and they just haven't had the chance to get more. But disposable contact lenses are designed to provide optimum comfort and correction for a certain amount of time before the materials develop deposits and lose their full effectiveness, which can cause irritation and other more serious complications.

So encourage patients to think about how valuable their eyes and good vision are. By having a one-year supply on hand, they don't have to put themselves in a situation where they'd need to wear their lenses an extra week or two. And they can enjoy the convenience of knowing that they don't have to think about reordering lenses until their next annual visit.

Recap by reminding patients that they like saving money, their eyes and healthy vision are important to them, and if the lenses were free they'd get a one-year supply and change them regularly. They'll most likely agree, so tell them that you'll go ahead and order a one-year supply.

If a patient still says that he doesn't want to spend that much money up front, tell him that he can pay for half of the order that day, and you'll bill him the following month for the balance. Then have a staff member prepare an invoice.

Good for Patients and Practice

Sending your patients out of the office with a one-year supply of contact lenses is good medical practice and good business practice. As you can see from the example above, by explaining/educating your patients about the benefits (both financial and medical) of having a one-year supply on hand, you make it easier for them to justify the expense. They walk out of your office feeling good about saving money and comforted that they're in the good hands of an eyecare practitioner who cares enough about them and their vision health to take the time to explain things to them.

From a practice standpoint, there are a number of reasons why this is simply good business. Your cost per patient goes down; you spend less time recalling and re-ordering lenses on a quarterly basis; your cost of goods decreases with larger volume orders so you can remain in the profit column and still pass on significant savings to your patients. You could reduce four separate orders each costing $5 in shipping, for example, to one order at $5 in shipping fees (which become even less when combined with other orders to a one-stop distributor).

For example, say your cost is $20/box for up to five boxes and $19/box for six boxes to 15 boxes, plus $5 shipping.

Four quarterly orders would cost $160 for the lenses plus an additional $20 for shipping for a grand total of $180 (or $45 per quarter)

A one-year supply would cost $152 for the lenses plus $5 for shipping for a grand total of $157.

To figure out the yearly cash savings of the annual supply in this example, subtract the total cost of the annual supply ($157) from the yearly cost of quarterly orders ($180) for a total cash savings of $23 per year.

If you sell the lenses at a retail cost of $42.95 per box, a two-box quarterly order would cost a patient $85.90 per quarter or $343.60 annually. Subtracting from that your annual price for quarterly orders ($180) would give you an annual profit of $163.60, or $40.90 per quarter.

However, if you retail eight boxes — a year's supply — at $319.95 (almost a 10 percent savings to patient) and then subtract from that your yearly cost of an annual supply ($157), you would have an annual profit of $162.95.

This example shows you how to pass the savings on to your patients, improve your margin, retain the same cash profit and increase patient retention without spending staff time on recalls or reorders. In addition, you keep a satisfied patient who isn't likely to go online shopping for replacement lenses.

Practice Makes Profit

Practice this explanation — or your own variation of it — on your staff, your family or your friends. Get comfortable explaining the economic and eye health benefits of buying a one-year supply of contact lenses to your patients. Once you've got it down, do it regularly so that you can get the message through to more patients. You are doing them and your practice a disservice if you don't.

Mr. Pearce is the director of sales and marketing for Imperial Optical, Inc., the largest independent contact lens distributor in North America (www.imperialoptical.com). You can e-mail him at dpearce@imperialoptical.com.



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: May 2006