The Business of Contact Lenses

A New Way to Think About Dispensing Annual Supplies

the business of contact lenses

A New Way to Think About Dispensing Annual Supplies


The benefits of dispensing an annual supply of disposable lenses are readily apparent and widely known. I've written before about what's called "pantry loading," which in our case means that patients who have annual supplies use their lenses faster. That translates to better compliance, which generally results in healthier lens wear.

Of course, when patients buy a year's worth of lenses your practice also benefits; your cash flow improves, you appreciate the time value of money in getting paid all at once and a patient's reasons to buy lenses elsewhere disappear.

If the benefits of annual supplies to both patients and practice are so widely known and understood, then why don't more practices dispense more of them?

What's in the Package?

If you hear patients ask your staff questions like, "How many lenses are in the box?" or, "How often do I change them?" you've got some staff education to work on. Your office philosophy needs to change from quantity of lenses to quantity of time. The following concept should permeate your practice: "We will dispense enough lenses to last you for one year." From there, the number of lenses, boxes and the wearing schedule take second place behind the amount of time the lenses should last. Focusing on the time increment you'll dispense is the first big step towards reaching a goal of increased annual supplies.

Relative to dispensing time versus lenses, think about the way lenses are packaged. Ask your staff how they would explain the following two hypothetical contact lenses to patients. The first is intended to be replaced after 10 days and there are four lenses in each box. After they scratch their heads a bit, ask them about a second lens that is discarded monthly and packaged with 12 lenses in a box. Obviously, the second lens is much easier to understand and explain, leading to my next point.

Imagine that all your lenses are packaged in yearly supplies. Now when a monthly lens patient approaches your front desk, you would hand him 12 pairs (regardless of the number of boxes) of lenses. (Note to contact lens manufacturers: 12 lenses in a box would be ideal for monthly replacement lenses, etc.).

Just Do it

When dispensing lenses, once you envision them as packaged for a yearly supply, just dispense them that way. Don't ask patients, "How many boxes would you like?" Instead, tell patients, "Here are your lenses. There are enough to last you a year." Or, "We'll order a year's worth of lenses and send them to you." The point is that you shouldn't volunteer a smaller quantity and less desirable alternative.

This becomes critically important with certain vision plans. If you tell patients, "Your insurance covers you for two boxes of lenses," your odds of dispensing an annual supply are very small. Instead you should say, "We'll have a year's supply of lenses sent to you. Your insurance will pay for half, and you're responsible for the other half."

Finally, be careful about using rebates to help "seal the deal" for annual supplies. You run the risk of educating patients to look for the next deal when they need to reorder lenses. You're in effect telling patients, "An annual supply is only a good idea because there's a rebate." Additionally, rebates come and go and add another level of administrative hassle for your practice. More importantly, our clients who've readily embraced the one-year dispensing philosophy rarely use rebates because the time-based dispensing logic negates their necessity. CLS

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