Article Date: 6/1/2006

value of a contact lens patient
Build Lifetime Relationships
A London Business School study shows you can derive more profit from your contact lens patients if you take the time to earn it.

Eyecare professionals have dealt with one complex question for many years: Which patient is more profitable, one who wears spectacles or one who wears contact lenses?

Opinions have varied, and anecdotal evidence and word-of-mouth based on individual experience has been the basis for fact. With no concrete evidence showing one patient is more or less valuable to a practice, clinicians have had to find their own way to profitability through trial and error. Until now.

The results of a study by the London Business School may surprise you. Read on to learn what the study found and the simple tactics you can employ to energize your practice.

EXTENSIVE FIELD WORK

In an effort to place a value on spectacles-only patients, contact lens-only patients and those who wear both modalities, the European Federation of National Manufacturers (Euromcontact) contracted with Mark Ritson, PhD, and the London Business School (LBS) to develop and execute a 2-year clinical study to determine the profitability of a contact lens patient versus a spectacles patient.

Dr. Ritson and his teams of native-speaking MBA students visited more than 90 eyecare practitioners in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. They obtained a wide variety of data from small, medium and large practices, as well as from independent and chain stores.

Typically, the researchers spent a half-day at each practice, gathering data on chair time for both patient sets and interviewing the eyecare practitioners and their employees.

Dr. Ritson and his team then built their economic model using data collected by a research company from a 43-question telephone survey that gathered 32,000 data points.

PUT 'THE RUMOR' TO REST

The results from the survey were enlightening to the researchers and the participants, as the data soundly rebutted what Dr. Ritson characterized as "The Rumor," a myopic view to which many eyecare practitioners subscribed, which goes something like: "In the time it takes me to fit a patient for contact lenses, I could have sold two pairs of spectacles."

Not only did the LBS study put this perception to rest, it also showed that a contact lens patient will deliver more "lifetime value" over the course of a 10-year period than a spectacles-only patient.

According to Dr. Ritson, the total revenue, total costs and net revenue for a spectacles-only patient is static over the course of a set period. See "Spectacles Net Revenue" for a breakdown. What you spend on chair time, materials and other spectacles-related costs and what you can charge remain fairly constant. Not so with a contact lens patient.

As shown in "Contact Lens Net Revenue," upfront costs associated with caring for a contact lens patient are higher than those for a spectacles-only patient. You'll spend more on chair time for fittings, multiple lens kits and other time-consuming tasks to develop a comfort level with your contact lens patient.

But once you get to the point where your patient is comfortable in his lenses and doesn't need extra time, then study data show you'll derive a steady stream of dependable revenue from a satisfied contact lens patient as he returns for annual eye exams and to purchase contact lenses.

It's up to you to build and nurture the relationship. The LBS study stresses that successful practitioners are not making money just selling product, they are making money satisfying patients' individual needs.

If you can build relationships by offering advice and patient care over many years, you will be successful. Here's how one OD has built her practice with many of the points discussed in the LBS study and how it has paid off.

OFFER INFORMATION AND OPTIONS

Kelly Kerksick, OD, a private practitioner in Columbia, Ill., has seen the contact lens side of her practice grow exponentially with the introduction of silicone hydrogel lenses coupled with her patient-centric approach to patient management.

"Currently, my practice comprises about 40% contact lens patients and 60% spectacles patients," she says. "However, I'm beginning to see more of an overlap, with spectacles patients moving over to, or at least trying, contact lenses. About one in every five of my contact lens wearers also purchase back-up spectacles. We are steadily converting more and more spectacle wearers to contact lenses. As my practice enters its fourth year, I'm definitely seeing growth in my contact lens segment, especially with the advent of new silicone hydrogel lenses. They're a real driving force."

New technology alone won't help you or your patient unless you have a mechanism in place to make everyone aware of contact lens benefits. Many practitioners have recognized the value of the "Five Zones of Patient Interaction" to streamline the patient experience and reinforce the value of contact lenses.

The five interaction zones include: scheduling, reception, pre-exam, exam/consultation room and post-fit. Dr. Kerksick emphasizes the first two zones, which she believes are the most important.

Dr. Kerksick prescreens all her patients with a detailed questionnaire that allows for a straightforward discussion of ocular health. She finds that many patients who are debating whether to switch from spectacles to contact lenses, as well as those who have dropped out of contact lenses, are not aware of the advances in contact lens technology and how these new lenses can have a positive impact on their ocular health.

"I find out whether or not my patient has contact lenses, is interested in contact lenses, or previously wore contact lenses," she says. "Then I try to find out the underlying issues that are affecting her reluctance to try them (or try them again) and work from there. I try to guide the conversation and explain the advantages that new contact lens technology offers."

Some patients may need to hear this information more than once. And others may need a little time for the message to sink in, according to Dr. Kerksick.

"I recently saw a patient who'd stopped wearing his contact lenses because he said it was too much of a hassle to insert and remove them every day," she says. "He was adamant that he was not interested in wearing contact lenses if he had to go through the same aggravation on a daily basis. I told him we have several new options such as the extended wear ACUVUE® OASYS™ lenses. He listened and left, but 20 minutes later, he called me and asked to come back to try contact lenses. We worked him back into the schedule, and now he's happy with his lenses."

Making patients aware of new technology and how it can help ocular health is crucial. Dr. Kerksick stresses that communication is most important, and the earlier the better.

COMMUNICATE A UNIFORM MESSAGE

Communicating the benefits of new technology is a key component to helping patients maintain ocular health, according to Dr. Kerksick. For this reason, she is most concerned with how her staff communicates with patients early on. Here is where effective management of the first two zones of patient interaction serves her practice well.

"I'm a firm believer that the most effective communication starts with my staff, not with me," she says. "By the time patients see me, they've already interacted with my staff on the phone and at the reception desk. That's why I've trained my staff to ask patients on the phone if they're coming in for contact lenses.

"Patients also interact with my staff when filling out paperwork as well as when they meet with my technicians," she says. "By the time they see me, they should have a clear understanding of what we're going to do. These interactions also give patients time to formulate questions for me based on what my staff has told them."

This sort of team atmosphere is not easy to come by, and Dr. Kerksick works hard to make sure her staff are all on the same page. "We have no less than two staff meetings a month, usually 'lunch and learn' with literature and articles for discussion," she says. "I can't run my practice as a one-woman show, so I depend on my staff to reiterate the message that our new lens technology can help you as a patient." In Dr. Kerksick's practice, all collateral material tells the same story: My practice can help you. 

"I believe in a cohesive message, from the time you enter the office to when you go to the dispensary," she says. "If you continue to drive home a point, eventually patients will look around and say 'everyone else is getting in on this, so it must be good. I want to be a part of it as well.' Even my eyeglass cases have contact lens material around them."

This attention to detail has led to a practice that's on the upswing.

GIVE YOUR PATIENTS SOMETHING NEW

The buy-in from staff, combined with the advent of new silicone hydrogel contact lens technology, has contributed to an increase in sales and growth in Dr. Kerksick's practice.

"I started the transition to being more staff-focused about a year ago, and they have been a big reason why my contact lens section is growing," she says. "If your staff is jazzed about a contact lens, then that contact lens sells."

The growth has led to a reclamation of some dropouts as well. "If I can make a case that the new silicone hydrogel lenses can make a significant difference in end-of-day comfort, I know I'll recapture dropouts," Dr. Kerksick says. "We can't deny that end-of-day comfort is imperative for successful and happy contact lens wearers.

"Furthermore, if I can offer a patient a silicone hydrogel lens that will alleviate his end-of-day discomfort, I've just made him a happy contact lens wearer. Let's face it; it's the happy contact lens wearers who become my loyal, return patients."

Dr. Kerksick conveys the benefits of this technology with a focused discussion.

"I use the 'whiter-brighter' eye talk," she says. "I educate my patients and make a convincing case that these silicone hydrogel lenses are brand new and state-of-the-art. That gets their attention because its something they've never heard of before. Then I describe the better ocular health, whiter eye and more comfort at the end of the day because of superior oxygen transmissibility and greater flexibility. When you explain all of this to a contact lens patient, more often than not, she is receptive to the benefits."

According to Dr. Kerksick, this internal marketing often results in more satisfied patients, who in turn tell others.

DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF

Being perceived as an innovator and ahead of the curve has produced positive results in Dr. Kerksick's practice. She prides herself on her technological savvy and has seen her reputation and practice grow because of it. She can see the benefits described in the LBS study of building a loyal contact lens patient base that results in repeat business and referrals.

"If there's a new lens, I want it in my practice because I want to be out there ahead of everyone else," she says. "People seem to have a perception — perhaps related to some of the articles I've written — that I am the go-to doctor for new technology, and I promote myself that way."

But in the end, even armed with the latest contact lens technology, it all comes down to making patients happy.

"If I can make a patient happy, she'll go to work or tell her friends how great the experience is, and I get four or five new patients from referrals," Dr. Kerksick says. "I am known as the doctor with specialty contact lenses, and this reputation differentiates me from other practices. If a patient is looking for a certain lens, like a bifocal or something he can't get elsewhere, I'm the doctor to see."

To Dr. Kerksick, there is such a thing as a typical patient, one who exhibits the litany of complaints that are common to contact lens patients. "The top complaints for contact lens patients are similar: They want more comfort, better vision and greater flexibility," she says. "But eyeglasses only meet their expectations. The right pair of contact lenses surpasses their expectations."



Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: June 2006