contact lens economics
Fit and Educate Your Way To Practice Growth
BY WALTER D. WEST, OD, FAAO
When I began my career some 26 years ago, soft contact lenses were relatively new on the scene. Rigid PMMA lenses and then newly-developed oxygen permeable materials remained a large part of any contact lens practice.In those early years of soft contact lenses, I remember the frustrations that many practitioners experienced trying to fit the new lenses. At that time, contact lens manufacturers differentiated base curve by letter, rather than the numeric selection that we use today. The early designs had limited parameter variations, and contact lens fitters of the day were frustrated because they wanted to provide patients with better, custom fits and could not with the new contact lenses as they existed.
Soon contact lens manufacturers began to offer a selection of base curves and diameters. Practitioners began to understand how they could vary sagittal depth of lenses to achieve better corneal alignment, centering and movement in order to provide patients the best possible fit with lenses then available. Next we saw the development of new materials and recognized the way water content, handling characteristics and deposit resistance impacted lens performance.
At this time, practitioners and patients alike continued to view contact lenses as "valuable pieces of plastic." With a mindset that reflected rigid lens habits, patients kept their lenses in service until damage or loss required replacement.
So here we are some 30 years after the development of the first soft contact lens. What has changed?
The Practitioners' Standpoint
Today more lens designs and materials are available than ever before in both RGP and soft lenses. Fitters now have the choices to completely customize lens fits. They can recommend specific lens types or brands that will enhance patient comfort, clarity of vision and long-term satisfaction.
Unfortunately, practitioners in general are not seizing this opportunity to customize lens recommendations for patients' individual performance needs. Rather, many practitioners have become complacent and fallen into the habit of fitting every patient in the same lens or one similar. Patients in this situation tend to perceive their practitioners as contact lens salespeople rather than experienced contact lenses fitters who will provide the best possible lens for them.
The Patients' Standpoint
Patients now view contact lenses as consumable items and often choose their lenses by price and acquire them not from their practitioner, but from the least expensive point of sale. Current contact lens wearers are faced with practitioners that deliver less information, less explanation and less differentiation of product performance than at any other time in the history of contact lenses.
I believe there is a relationship between these two situations. Patients are beginning to realize that there are practitioners who will "fit" contact lenses rather than merely sell them. Once contact lens wearers recognize that better alternatives for care and recommendations exist, and that more comfortable and serviceable lens designs are available, their purchasing decisions will begin to shift away from price and toward quality and value.
Dr. West practices in Brentwood, TN, and lectures nationally and internationally on contact lens and practice management topics.