Becoming a Proactive Contact Lens Practitioner

Take these steps to increase your contact lens practice - and retain patients.

Becoming a Proactive Contact Lens Practitioner
Take these steps to increase your contact lens practice — and retain patients.
By Steve Grant, OD, FAAO

The world is changing — the baby boomers are getting grayer, drier and, significantly, more presbyopic. Compared to previous generations, they're also better educated about health issues and healthcare delivery, including eye care.

In light of the changing world, we need to adapt our way of looking at our business, in particular the contact lens business. We should direct our marketing to patients' needs and to our ever-changing products and technology. We need to constantly educate ourselves to keep pace with this explosion of technological advances.

Educate the Patient

Believe it or not, the contact lens business is, or should be, a very profitable part of your practice. Yes, the commodity factor has kicked in, but the medical industry isn't profitable because it sells flu shots or medicine. Likewise, it's the valuable services that we provide that contribute to our profitability.

An uninformed patient is often the most dissatisfied and the first to go to a "Doc-in-the-box" or to mail-order contact lens outlets. You need to emphasize to your patients, especially price shoppers, why you're important to their eye health, especially with respect to proper contact lens fitting.

Here are a few ways you can and should educate your patients:

Stress Eye Health Tell patients in advance which tests you will perform during the examination. Before a patient leaves your office, educate him about how he can contribute to establishing and maintaining good eye health, good comfort and crisp vision.

Share Your Expertise Educate patients about the many options and modalities as well as new advances in contact lens fitting. Emphasize that you're a a professional who will guide them to the best choices for their optimal vision and comfort.

Some patients may have incorrect information about contact lenses from the media or other sources. Discuss these patients' concerns and take time to re-educate them.

Emphasize the Process Explain that proper contact lens fitting is a process that requires many important steps to achieve maximum results.

Inform a contact lens wearer that even though there may be no change in the contact lens prescription, many tests, in addition to the routine exam, are necessary for a complete, accurate and updated contact lens evaluation to ensure the health and safety of his eyes.

Explain Fees/Packages Establish fees that are commensurate with the complexity of the case and explain them to patients. Develop and offer annual supplies/packages for patients who purchase contact lenses from you.

Educate Yourself

A proactive practitioner should be well-educated on new products and technologies. Be sure you are up to date on the following:

Silicone Hydrogels The advent of silicone hydrogel lenses has stimulated extreme growth in contact lens practices throughout the world. Almost all of our patients could potentially benefit from the greater oxygen permeability of these new-generation lenses. I treat my patients as I would my family, and if a better lens is out there, I want them to have it. I don't ascribe to the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Instead, if it's in my patients' best interest, why not?

Dry Eye For years manufacturers have been trying to address this cause of contact lens failure and dropout. With each new design they're getting closer to handling this problem. Extreme H2O (Hydrogel Vision Corp.) and CooperVision's Proclear lenses are made of moisture-retaining materials. Vistakon has its Acuvue Advance and the new Acuvue Oasys with Hydraclear Plus. CIBA Vision offers O2Optix and its new Focus Dailies with AquaRelease, developed to help dry eye patients. These new modalities provide great opportunity to the proactive practitioner to get those difficult patients, including dropouts, successfully into contact lenses.

Astigmatism You no longer have to fear offering soft lenses to correct this condition because of the great advances in technology that allow manufacturers to fabricate quality and reproducible lenses. To be successful and proactive in fitting these lenses, it's important to invest in a complete set of diagnostic lenses from multiple manufacturers. Ordering lenses each time you want to modify the power or fit is a tremendous waste of time for you and your patients.

Toric lenses are also now available in many different modalities including continuous wear and daily disposable wear. And don't forget the high cylinder patients — they, too, can wear contact lenses. Often the best lens for the high astigmat is a bitoric or front surface toric GP lens. Make these patients happy, and they'll make you a hero.

Multifocals Baby boomers are getting dry eyed and presbyopic, which opens the door to more proactive contact lens fitting. In my office, monovision is still a successful modality. However, as a proactive contact lens practitioner, I continually experiment with new multifocal designs that are being developed. If you don't offer and fit new designs, your patients will go elsewhere, along with all those potential referrals that go with them.

Hard-to-fit Patients Our practice specializes in hard-to-fit patients. Therefore, we fit many GP lenses. Refractive surgery has presented a new category of contact lens fitting: the irregular, flat cornea. To fit these patients, you may need to invest in extra equipment and education, but the rewards are well worth it. To take a patient who has spent a lot of money on unsuccessful surgery and help him to see again is very rewarding both professionally and financially. A successful and happy keratoconus patient is usually a patient for life and, indeed, a great referral source. It's necessary to communicate to the ophthalmic community that you have the skills and equipment to properly treat complicated conditions.

Orthokeratology Corneal reshaping, or orthokeratology, has been a boon to many practices today. Many patients are still afraid of refractive surgery and want an alternative to glasses. Paragon has opened the door to this modality both in teaching practitioners and patient advertising. Other companies are joining in. Again, corneal reshaping requires more education (certification) and an investment in another set of diagnostic lenses, but the rewards are tremendous. It sets you apart from the mainstream practitioner.

Tinted/Colored Contact Lenses Patients historically have been interested in changing their eye color. Offer colors as an addition to a patient's clear modality. You'll be surprised how many people are excited by the idea of wearing colored lenses for a special night out. The recent introduction of CIBA Vision's FreshLook One-Day daily disposable colored lenses will make this fitting process even easier. Also, don't forget those patients who have a scar or misshapen pupil who may want to make it less noticeable.

For athletes, Bausch & Lomb's MaxSight lens is targeted to help enhance sport performance and is a great recommendation for anyone who partakes in a sporting activity. Most golfers would be willing to pay a little extra to help improve their score.

Communication Essentials

Marketing your practice requires establishing different ways to communicate with patients. You can do this by implementing the following:

   A current and active Web site.

   Mail communication (newsletter, e-mail,       thank-you notes).

   Brochures and point-of-sale items in the       office with the latest information.

   Informed, effective and courteous staff.

   A networking plan (membership in service    clubs, civic organizations, etc.).

   Public appearances and lecturing.

The Presentation

Proper marketing, education and communication are all vital to growing your contact lens practice. However, you also need to consider your presentation. Your office should set the stage for a pleasant experience for your patients. The environment should be attractive, comfortable, clean and orderly. Equipment should be complete and up to date; your staff welcoming, professional and cheerful. Staff should greet the patient with a smile and attend to the patient in a timely manner. Your contact lens patients will make many visits to your office; make sure that they have a positive experience each time so they look forward to returning. Finally, you, their practitioner, should convey an air of confidence and enthusiasm as an advocate of contact lenses. Be an authority on contact lens practice, a specialist who advises patients according to a well-informed plan for their contact lens care.

A Proactive Approach

A more proactive approach to your contact lens business is essential to increased success. You must be diligent in educating your patients, your staff, and yourself. Keeping abreast of the latest in technology, techniques, products and equipment is certainly important, but you must also be able to communicate and implement those ideas. As a result, your patients will be happier and your contact lens practice will thrive.

Dr. Grant is in private practice in Costa Mesa, CA. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, a Cornea and Contact Lens Section Diplomate and is
currently the Vice Chair of the section. He is an adjunct associate professor at the Southern California College of Optometry. He also is a paid consultant for Vistakon and participates in many clinical research studies for various contact lens and pharmaceutical companies.