reader and industry forum
How Marketing Can Influence the Care of Pediatric Patients
BY BRIAN CHOU, OD, FAAO
Every so often there comes a film documentary with a powerful message, such as the 2004 Sundance Film Festival award winner "The Corporation." This film describes the ascent of corporations as a pervasive and powerful existence in our lives.
Among several topics, the film compellingly investigates how certain corporations market to kids. Although kids cannot make purchases themselves, they significantly influence the purchasing decisions of their parents. In fact, 55 percent of kids surveyed said that they are usually successful in getting their parents to give them what they want.
Some advertisers hire child psychologists to target kids, a practice that some U.S. mental health professionals claim is unethical. In 2004, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommended federal restrictions on advertising that targets kids younger than 8. Research has shown that children under this age cannot critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased. There is debate about whether children older than 8 years of age can also critically evaluate such advertising.
Kids and Lens Advertising
Some contact lens manufacturers target children with direct-to-consumer advertising. I do not see anything disingenuous about the contact lens industry targeting kids as a growth sector. Children often make excellent contact lens wearers. One recent industry-sponsored study of 169 minors wearing contact lenses by Walline and co-workers indicated that although 8-to-12 year olds required on average 15 minutes more chair time compared to 13-to-17 year olds, mainly due to application and removal training, practitioners should routinely consider prescribing contact lenses for children as young as 8 years old. Athletics and social interactions can make glasses undesirable, which makes contact lenses an attractive and logical option.
But will children understand from advertising that contact lenses are prescriptive medical devices with some inherent risks? Will they understand that professional services are desirable and requisite for healthy lens wear? If not, then arguably the advertiser is reducing the value of the patient-doctor relationship and developing a "do-it-yourself" patient-product relationship from a child's formative experience with contact lenses.
What an odd concept: kids with no prescriptive authority asking for specific lens brands. How unfortunate if the new generation of contact lens wearers collectively fails to value the expertise of contact lens professionals for protecting their eye health and prescribing what's best for their eyes.
The push by our contact lens industry to increase contact lens prescribing for children is a good one. Yet on the same note, practitioners have the important and concurrent responsibility to protect our most vulnerable patients from corporate agenda that may unwittingly run contrary to what's best for them.
The power wielded by marketing agencies is great. Somehow an ill-advised 30-second television advertisement can reduce a practitioner's cumulative years of clinical experience and formal professional training to a pile of dust. My point is this: if contact lens representatives ask how they can better support your practice, let them know why their consumer marketing should reinforce patient loyalty to a practitioner ahead of loyalty to a specific contact lens brand. CLS
For references, please visit www.clspectrum.com/references.asp and click on document #161.
Dr. Chou is in group practice in San Diego at Carmel Mountain Vision Care. He is the co-developer of EyeDock.com, the online contact lens reference for eyecare professionals. He is a consultant to CooperVision and SynergEyes.