Article Date: 9/1/2006

contact lens economics
Contact Lenses as a Loss Leader?

BY GARY GERBER, OD

When my kids were small, I remember going to the store for diapers and having to go way in the back of the store to find them. Usually exhausted after a full day of patients, I recall thinking, "How inconvenient. They must sell a lot of diapers here. Why put them all the way in the back? What lousy customer service!" Of course, I also did exactly what the retailer wanted me to do — I usually left with something other than diapers. After all, I had just seen most of the store's inventory.

While there may not be an obvious and direct physical product placement correlation for contact lenses, one thing that's important to note is my repeated trips to the store. I'd guess that on more than half of them I bought something other than what I went in for. Contact lenses have that same power to grow your practice, and you should be aware of it and harness it.

Can't Get Rid of Them

While there are certainly some patients you probably wouldn't mind never seeing again, the facts are that most contact lens patients return for professional care sooner than either eyeglass patients or those needing no correction. You've probably already noticed that and industry data support this. What you may not have noticed are the less obvious additional revenue streams these extra visits can create for your practice. Beyond obvious things like plano sunglasses and solutions, more visits to your offices offer more opportunities for larger revenue generators like professional fees. As modern optometry moves towards more medical care, contact lenses provide a great tether between practice and patient.

Patients for Life

To implement this concept you only need to change the way you currently think of patient encounters. Our billing, coding and payment methodology focuses on one visit at a time. For example, "The contact lens patient I saw today generated $147 in professional fees." A more profitable approach would be to view this visit along a lengthy continuum of ongoing visits. "The patient I saw today will be a patient in my practice for the next 20 years. During that time I will see him 35 times and anticipate total revenues of $8,000."

This thinking opens up possibilities not available with conventional thinking. Seeing a patient for a contact lens fit today who has high IOPs and questionable visual field results now triggers an appointment for a glaucoma work-up in 3 months. The point here is that a contact lens patient has a higher proclivity to return for ongoing care because he's already been in the office more often than a non-contact lens-
wearing patient. These patients are accustomed to not having all of their needs tended to at one visit. And in that expectation is the power to increase profits.

This is not about fitting patients with contact lenses solely for the purpose of increasing their chances of returning for unnecessary testing. To the contrary, it's about using contact lenses, when appropriate for the patient, with the awareness that the lenses can help condition the patient about the need for ongoing clinical care that is unrelated to his contact lenses.

The proof of this concept is borne out from client files. It's no accident that the highest netting practices we work with have the highest percentage of contact lens patients and those practices see that population more frequently for non-contact lens-related visits. There are certainly some patient age caveats attached to this concept, but the profit and loss statements of these practices have repeatedly proven this point.

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: September 2006