BEST CONTACT LENS PRACTICES
of a Successful Contact Lens Practice
practices incorporate different components to create a practice that draws and maintains
By Powers Griffin, OD, FAAO
growth and steady referrals are just two of many benchmarks that help define today's
successful contact lens practice. In fact, there are several common threads
some more obvious than others found among the most thriving contact lens
practices. Many of them require only a small amount of effort to develop. Best of
all, making even small changes will put new energy into your practice and help invigorate
Upgrade to New Technology
You wouldn't expect a primary care physician to
prescribe an old antibiotic if a newer and safer drug was available. Innovations
in contact lenses as medical devices are no different. Top doctors in their field
always stay current with the benefits of new technology and don't shy away from
presenting it to their patients when appropriate.
Offering new technology can be challenging.
Understanding the new materials alone takes time and experience. How does a given
lens' oxygen transmissibility, material flexibility, moisture retention and optical
characteristics stack up against other lenses on the market? Does personal clinical
experience align with marketing claims? Even details as mundane as recommending
the appropriate wearing time and cleaning regimen are important to success. You
must have a firm grasp on these issues to make an informed, and ultimately beneficial,
With the rapid influx of new lens materials
and cleaning regimens, it's easy to offer patients something new at each annual
visit. Doing so adds to the perception that your office is current and that you're
concerned about long-term ocular health. Simply put, give your patients a reason
to come in each year and they'll be more inclined to return for their yearly exams
and to refer their friends and family.
Knowledgeable, Pleasant Staff
All of the members of your team should be familiar with new contact
lenses, their benefits, wear schedules and cost. Your staff is on the front line
for questions prompted by information presented in the waiting room, by friends
and neighbors and by industry advertising. Your office should work seamlessly as
a team, from the initial phone call to check out. Information given verbally should
be consistent between all team members and presented in a respectful manner.
Your best avenue for staff education is through
staff meetings. It's the one place you can get everyone on the same page at the
same time. The most successful practices hold regular staff meetings.
We hold meetings monthly, blocking
our schedules from 8 am to 9:30 am. This obviously cuts into patient time, but we
feel the importance of the meetings outweighs the patient care time lost. Obviously,
we compensate staff for their time attending the meeting.
Announce the topic for each meeting
in advance so your staff knows what to expect, and come prepared to listen. It's
easy to have an unproductive and boring staff meeting. It's a true challenge to
make meetings informative and enjoyable. Embrace this challenge.
Staff meetings are the perfect platform
to educate your staff about what you consider important to patient care. Use the
time to explain the relationship between oxygen and corneal health, the importance
of matching the appropriate cleaning regimen to the contact lens material and the
benefits of new contact lens products. A great staff has a thirst for knowledge,
and top practices continuously educate to quench this thirst.
Nothing spoils the positive impacts of new lens
technology and of a visit to your office more than does office inefficiency. Today's
patients appreciate efficiency and an office that respects their time. Let's not
forget that patients often must take time off work or arrange childcare to fit a
visit to your office into their schedule. Long waits and wasted time will drive
patients to offices that are better managed or to the Internet to buy what they're
An efficiently run office that uses staff
effectively will send a powerful message to your patients that you value them and
their time. For example, you can easily eliminate a second visit by performing the
contact lens fitting immediately after the exam. Use staff to apply diagnostic lenses,
measure visual acuity, perform auto-refraction, explain fees, handle follow-up visits
and talk about lens care. Including staff in this manner dramatically improves efficiency
without compromising ocular health or vision. Learn to delegate. The most successful
businesses in the world apply this concept to their office with positive results.
Make a Recommendation
Another way to improve office efficiency is to
always be prepared to present your patient a recommended lens choice for common
scenarios. Have a lens of choice for teenagers, dry eyes, presbyopes, heavy computer
users, social wear, astigmats of all types, allergy prone patients, neovascularization
rehabilitation and patients interested in colored lenses. You can dramatically improve
efficiency by addressing the primary issue and communicating it directly and concisely
to your patient.
It's not uncommon for a patient to come in
with a preconceived idea about the lens he wants. Understanding your patient's needs
and expectations should guide your treatment recommendation. Strive to take a patient's
preconceived want, put it together with visual requirements and health needs and
develop a positive plan of action. Successful practices are made up of such committed
and talented people.
Successful practices are also profitable practices.
Optometry is unique in the healthcare system because we provide both a professional
service and a retail "product." Offices that flourish have found a way to balance
Patients today are much more price savvy than
they were 20 years ago. We live in the information age. Patients are more informed
about their options and have the capability to easily comparison shop. Not all your
patients are looking for the lowest price. Many are looking for value. Value means
different things to different people. For some, it's the lowest price. For others,
it's home delivery, convenient office hours and parking, expert advice or uncomplicated
exchanges. As consumers, our patients are doing nothing differently from what we
do ourselves. We look for the best product, with the best service, at the most competitive
Successful practices are the ones that
do their best to make patients feel comfortable by presenting a respectful, knowledgeable
and helpful staff and a pleasant and clean office environment, all at a fair price.
Patients, as consumers, will choose to do business where they are comfortable.
Present a Pleasant Atmosphere
Put yourself in your patient's shoes. Sit in your
waiting room; is it clean? How old are the magazines? Walk up to the reception desk;
is it cluttered? Look into your front windows at night. Is it clean, presentable
and inviting? Are there lights on? Is your sign readable and well lit?
Investing in yourself is the best investment
you can make. Every dollar you spend on dressing up your practice image will come
back to you tenfold. A little paint, new carpet and updated magazines will all have
an impact on your patient's perception of you and your practice. It also says something
about how you value your patients and has the additional benefit of improving staff
Communication is Key
Listening is an art that you and your staff need
to cultivate for your practice to grow and be successful. It's often said that
the hardest thing about good communication is listening. Listening to your patients'
chief complaints, their wants and their expectations is an excellent way to establish
good communication with them.
It sounds easy enough, but finding the time
to be a good listener can prove extremely difficult in the midst of a very busy
day. The most successful offices make time to listen. Once again, staff can be the
key. Empowering staff to take on more patient care will provide more time to listen.
Doing so will communicate volumes about how you value your patients.
Good communication goes beyond the
exam room. Newsletters, phone calls and Web sites are just some ways you can build
your relationship with your patients. Patients today expect and want to be kept
informed, and you shouldn't disappoint them.
Make Room for Emergencies
If you fit contact lenses, you'll have emergencies.
Corneal infiltrates, abrasions, lenses stuck under eyelids, acute redness, etc.,
are all examples of patient emergencies that you might encounter. What we might
consider as the smallest problem can be perceived as a major sight-threatening emergency
by a patient or a member of his family.
Address all emergencies as worst-case scenarios
until proven otherwise. Making yourself available after hours and on weekends goes
with the responsibility of being a contact lens practitioner. Successful practices
look at emergencies as ways to strengthen patient relationships. The relief felt
by a worried patient when he can reach you after hours and on weekends speaks volumes
about your care.
Use Manufacturers' Expertise
It's better to know a lot about a few lenses than
a little about many. If you limit the companies you do business with, you'll find
that the level of service you receive from those companies will increase. Choose
companies who are willing to commit resources to your practice co-op money and marketing
dollars. Marketing is vital in today's business.
Take advantage of free informational evenings
offered by the contact lens industry. These sessions not only provide you with new
information, they also provide you the opportunity to network with colleagues.
A successful contact lens practice doesn't just
happen. You have to seriously want it and work toward that goal. Being knowledgeable
about new products, providing a comfortable, professional environment, effectively
utilizing and empowering your staff, valuing good communications and being an active
member of the professional community are all important elements that can lead to
strong growth and referrals. Successful practices incorporate these many different
components to create an environment that will draw and maintain patients, resulting
in a practice that is more successful as both a healthcare provider and a business.
Dr. Griffin is in group practice with his two
brothers in Laguna Niguel and San Clemente, CA. He practices general optometry
with an emphasis in contact lenses. His practice has participated in clinical studies
and FDA trials for newer contact lens designs and materials. He has lectured and
published several articles on contact lenses.
Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: June 2006