If You Can't Beat Mail Order Companies, Join Them
BY JOE B. GOLDBERG, OD, FAAO
Mail order contact lens replacement is a very profitable business that poses a direct economical threat to eyecare practitioners. Immediate lens replacement and competitive prices are largely responsible for the success of mail order and Internet companies.
We can't eliminate mail order replacement businesses, but we can use our professional ingenuity and patients' contact lens prescriptions to challenge them.
Patients should obtain mail order lens replacements only during the service life of the lens prescription. Therefore, practitioners must limit the service life of a lens prescription. The original lens prescription in the patient's chart and on the patient's copy should contain a statement that says:
This contact lens prescription expires on _______ 2002.
The original contact lens prescription in the patient's chart and the one given to the patient should also state:
You must have a professional eye examination to replace your contact lenses when the effective date of this prescription expires.
Each practitioner can determine the expiration date of a lens prescription. I recommend a six-month interval, which requires patients to return semi-annually to confirm the efficacy of the lens fit and receive a current lens prescription. This way, the patient knows in advance that it is compulsory to return to keep the contact lens prescription current for his best interests and welfare.
It also may inhibit mail order houses from filling orders for replacement lenses once the prescription has expired.
A patient who does not comply with your procedures and obtains lenses with an expired prescription jeopardizes the position of the mail order group who fills the expired prescription, especially if the replacement pair creates a meaningful disease problem.
Patients will order contact lens replacement from mail order and Internet facilities if their lenses are comfortable, and they feel there are no obvious physiological or optical changes. Consequently, any lay facility can use a practitioner's Rx, regardless of how old it is, to replace lenses when the Rx does not have an expiration date. Without an expiration date, a patient may think his prescription never expires.
Practitioners should try to keep an inventory of patients' lenses in the practice and duplicate the prices and procedures of the mail order companies. This allows your practice to compete with them. What's profitable for the mail order businesses can also be profitable for you.
Let your patients and the general public know that you supply the identical services furnished by mail order and Internet companies, but locally and for immediate delivery without postage and handling charges.
You can also furnish a service contract for replacement contact lenses that is similar to those of mail order companies. The contract should state the reduced cost of a contact lens replacement. You can collect your service contract fee in advance.
Although the service life of your patient's contact lens prescription is six months, you can make the service contract for either six months or one year. If you make it for one year, make sure it states that the coverage is for contact lenses whose expiration dates have not expired.
Record the service contract in your computerized database so you can provide replacement lenses to your patients directly from your inventory.
If the mail order and Internet groups can create a profitable contact lens replacement business, so can you!
Dr. Goldberg is an Emeritus Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and is a Diplomate in the Section of Cornea and Contact Lenses.