the business of contact lenses
Weathering the Storms of Contact Lens Practice
BY CLARKE D. NEWMAN, OD, FAAO
I once took some of my friends from college home with me to "crew" in a sailboat regatta. It was summer, it was warm, the winds were fair, they rode the rail, we won every race by a mile, and they got trophies their first time out. They loved it. I said, "What's not to like? But if you really loved sailboat racing, you'd be just as stoked when it was wet, cold, windy, and you were in the back of the pack."
The same is true with contact lens practice. It's easy to love it when you nail that perfect bifocal design the first time—all reward with no effort. The true test of the faithful comes when you are seeing a patient back for the fifth time when you've already reordered the lens four times and the warranty ended at three.
The Going Can Get Tough
If you offer specialty lens consultation, you are bound to hit the wall occasionally with some patients. Some of them you thought would be a piece of cake. Others make you question your own sanity for ever having mentioned toric multifocals in the first place.
Having sailed plenty of times when it was wet, cold, windy, and we weren't doing so well, I know that there are things you can do to make even the worst regatta bearable. Some are common sense—such has having good technical clothing and well-prepared equipment that doesn't break. Some things are more subtle—such as having realistic expectations and sharing them with the crew, for example.
The same is true of contact lens practice. So, let's go through a few of those things.
Being Prepared is a Must
First, you need to have the right equipment. I never hit the water without the best equipment and being really prepared. Likewise, I never tackle a contact lens patient without the right tools. I have all of the diagnostic lens sets that I need. I do not prescribe any specialty contact lens—GP or soft—without the proper diagnostic lenses in hand.
Complete sets are a must. I use lenses that offer me every parameter available in a diagnostic set. I tend to forget any lens after a few unsuccessful trips to the diagnostic cabinet. In my GP sets, I ask labs to add lenses to my set that I think I will need frequently. Any lab worth its salt will be happy to accommodate such a request.
Second, I work very hard to use products that come with generous return policies. It is important to know what those policies are when setting your pricing. Monitor these policies for changes. You don't want to be surprised by an expensive return that comes back on you.
Third, when ordering custom hydrogel diagnostic lenses, such as toric multifocals, if I think the base curve call will be close, I will order both up front. That saves a visit. Remember that the enemy of profitable contact lens practice is uncompensated returns and excessive chair time. Wasting a patient's time will build ill will faster than the wrong axis will.
Set the Right Expectations
Next, make sure that patients know what you can and cannot do. Realistic expectations are critical to the success of any specialty prescription. Course corrections can be made mid-journey, but they are not nearly as efficient as plotting a proper course before setting sail.
Finally, always stand behind what you do, but make sure that refund policies are fair to both you and your patients. Refund on product, but rarely on services. Stand behind your expertise.
Remembering these simple tenets will help you to weather the storms of contact lens practice. 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.