The Business of Contact Lenses

Don’t Prejudge Patients Based on Their Insurance Plans

The Business of Contact Lenses

Don't Prejudge Patients Based On Their Insurance Plans

By Gary Gerber, OD

Like the last 20-plus times, the car just wouldn't start. I don't know much about cars, so I'm not really sure why I even bothered to crawl underneath to see what the problem was. I came out with no explanation but lots of grease and grime. Frustrated once again, I made a decision on the spot: “I'm buying a new car, and I'm buying it today.”

I went to the bank and withdrew every last dollar from my savings account. With exactly $6,500 in my pocket, I got a ride to a local car dealership. Upon entering, without even standing up, the suit-clad salesmen looked at me from their desks and I guess thought I was applying for a mechanic's job. They quickly went back to their paperwork or continued their phone conversations, not acknowledging that I was there. With no one willing to sell me a car, I left.

Ten minutes later at another dealership, I was met by a salesman who warmly greeted me and asked how he could help me. I told him, “I'm buying a car today. I have $6,000 (I had to leave some wiggle room), and I need the car now.” An hour later I was happily driving my new (used) car home.

Consequences of Prejudging

That was my experience when buying my first car about 25 years ago. In a related sidebar, the second salesman went on to become a long-time patient, along with his family. But the lesson I learned was an important one. The first group of “salesmen” prejudged the odds of my buying a car based on how I looked. I was telegraphing all the classic signs of someone not able to afford what they were selling. After all, someone covered in grease, wearing torn jeans, a worn T-shirt, and a faded leather jacket is unlikely to actually buy anything, let alone a car. (While not a huge sum for a car, in today's dollars I was still spending about $13,000.)

The second salesman looked past my disheveled appearance and saw me as a prospective customer. There was absolutely no pretense on his part and no prejudging about whether I was there to kick the tires or leave with a car. Had salesmen at the first dealership treated me that way, I most likely would have bought there.

It's simply human nature to judge a book by its cover. In our case, the cover is insurance coverage. The sentence, “Let me explain how your insurance coverage works with contact lenses,” probably prevents more patients from wearing contact lenses than the Fusarium scare. My greasy, grimy, unkempt appearance is equivalent to our patients' poor-paying insurance plans. Salesmen ignoring me are just like us when we don't even discuss lenses with patients because, after all, “They'll only want what their plan covers.”

Breaking the Cycle

A great exercise is to role-play the following two scenarios with your staff. In the first one, a well-known, wealthy, cash-paying patient begs you for contact lenses. In the second, a patient with insurance who would really benefit from lenses is resistant to your recommendations. Have your staff take notes of the words, gestures and emotions used in the first case and force them to apply these to the second. Invariably, in the first case, you'll talk about the benefits of lenses and not even address the issue of cost since the patient can easily afford them. In the second, you'll focus mainly on the price. Have fun with the exercise by telling your staff, “Oops, I made a mistake. The first guy was the one with the insurance. Do you think he'd have gotten contact lenses?”

Prejudging a patient's proclivity to accept your contact lens recommendation based on his insurance does everyone a disservice. CLS

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company offering proven and comprehensive practice and profit building systems. You can reach him at