the business of contact lenses
Knowing Your Practice, Patients is Key to Business Strategy
BY CLARKE D. NEWMAN, OD, FAAO
In the Coding Strategies column, I mainly addressed ways to be profitable by coding and billing properly for contact lens services. The first thing I stated was that it is okay to be profitable. Beginning with this column, I will transition to addressing all issues regarding the business aspects of contact lens practice. With that in mind, let's look at a couple of issues that the average practitioner faces.
Practice, Market Factors
Last year was rough for the economy—more so than most of us have ever encountered. So, how do we make sure that we are positioned to stay competitive and profitable in this down economy?
We must understand the nature of our own practice to succeed. We need to understand the nature of the market forces that affect our success. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
The nature of the contact lens industry is recent product innovation; it is dealing with increased competition, and with it, price pressure on materials; it is dealing with presbyopia; it is dealing with vision plan restrictions; and it is addressing dropouts. The nature of our practices is providing competent services at affordable prices and controlling expenses in such a way that we are profitable.
Alternative routes of delivery for contact lenses have increased the number of lens sellers. That, coupled with the commodity perception of disposable lens products, has made the market ripe for intrusion by large retailers and Internet suppliers that have competitive advantages over solo practitioners. Therefore, that market force competes with our objectives. This is nothing new.
Winning the War
Knowing all of this information, how does the average contact lens practitioner compete? By knowing the other “enemy”—the patient—that's how. What patients need is value. They may think they want cheap, but what they really want is value. How do you give your patients the value that they want in a way that the large retailers and Internet suppliers cannot?
First, you have an inherent advantage—you know your patients. Second, there is an inherent perception that you have a stake in patients' satisfaction with their vision because it is your prescription. Your third advantage is the “one stop shop” experience.
Another way to increase value to your patients is to take advantage of lens manufacturer coupon and rebate offers on yearly supplies. If you can capture your patients for the year with a single staff transaction, you can deliver materials at a lower cost. Also, the potential for error goes down because the staff interactions drop by half.
By providing yearly supplies, you remove the natural inclination to shop around. For your patients who do shop around, you can have e-commerce portals for lens ordering. Keep shipping costs to a minimum, and you will often come out ahead in the “war” to win your patients' contact lens business.
Finally, and very controversially, stop selling lenses altogether. I have a colleague who does not sell lenses, and he loves it. He gives patients their prescription to purchase them where they will. I still dispense lenses, but it is an interesting solution. CLS
Dr. Newman has been in private practice in Dallas, Texas since 1986 specializing in vision rehabilitation through contact lenses as well as corneal disease management, optometric medicine, and refractive surgery. He is also a consultant or advisor to B+L.