The Importance of Staff Training for GP Lenses
Educate your office team to optimize practice success with the GP lens modality.
By Roxanna Potter, OD, FAAO
Fitting GP lenses can be very beneficial to an eyecare practice. With superior optics and visual results, increased safety profiles, and limited commercial availability, GP lenses bring patient satisfaction, consumer loyalty, and profitability to practices that offer this service. To reap the benefits, however, a practice must be prepared to identify good candidates; to educate, train, and support patients throughout the fitting process; and to maintain office efficiency and productivity. Staff training is critical to achieve a level of performance that inspires patient trust in this lens modality.
Unfortunately, with the popularity and commercial success of soft contact lenses, many patients now consider GP lenses to be outdated. Many may also be unaware of advances in materials and designs in GP lens technology. Patients need to be properly educated on the advantages of GP lenses to consider them an option for their lifestyle.
As with any product or service, the eyecare practitioner’s recommendation is important to a patient, but when coupled with staff support and encouragement, GP lenses can be viewed by patients as unique and exciting. Training your staff to assist in GP lens fitting should be comprehensive across the entire patient experience, and not just consist of a brief education in GP lens application and removal.
Where to Find Information
Before GP lens candidates even come through the door, they have many opportunities to be introduced to this modality. When looking for a provider, patients will ask for referrals, look at your website or other online sources, check their insurance provider list, and/or speak with a staff member.
Finding opportunities to prepare for, and create interest in, GP lens fitting prior to a patient’s visit is a staff duty that should not be overlooked. Staff can be trained to place and monitor information and links regarding GP lenses on your website and social media outlets. At the very least, a link to www.contactlenses.org will provide quick and easy access to excellent GP lens information for patients. In addition, signing up on the GP Eye Care Professional Locator at www.gpli.info/locator-submit will list your practice for patients to find.
If your website has pre-examination paperwork access, such as a printable welcome form, include questions on the form regarding contact lens interest and lifestyle to screen for possible GP lens candidates before they arrive at your office. Staff can identify and alert the eyecare practitioner about candidates ahead of time, and they can even forward marketing materials to these patients before they arrive.
The Initial Conversation
When speaking to a new patient on the phone, have staff ascertain whether or not the patient is interested in contact lenses. They should also obtain an idea of patient goals for contact lens wear. This will allow for appropriate scheduling and staffing for the appointment, and even for an introduction to GP lenses. A pamphlet on GPs or an email with a link to a possible GP lens option for their goals could be sent to the patients prior to their appointment.
Staff members will often attempt to obtain the minimum information necessary during appointment request calls to end the conversation quickly and move to their next task. However, this is a great opportunity to begin a dialogue with new patients that can give them something to look forward to when they arrive.
Once patients arrive, there are multiple opportunities to introduce GP lens options prior to their time with the eyecare practitioner. First, a receptionist can identify potential candidates, based on welcome form answers or casual conversation, and provide marketing material. Second, the reception room can contain pamphlets or visual/TV presentations on GP lenses. Finally, pre-testing staff can discuss options during testing or during downtime between examination procedures. Staff can also anticipate necessary testing, such as topography, based on a patient’s history and perform it ahead of time.
Another easy way to promote GP lenses is to have a staff member provide marketing material and/or referral incentives to current patients at some point during their examination. This could be done after pre-testing: while patients are waiting to see the practitioner, while they are dilating, in the dispensary while waiting for charges to be entered into the computer, or at checkout. Any downtime during patients’ visits during which they are simply waiting for the next step is a missed opportunity to educate them about GP lenses. A well-trained staff can identify patients who are waiting and approach them during this time.
Current GP lens wearers are usually an enthusiastic source of referrals, but often lack the incentive necessary to actively do so. A staff member can present options to prompt referrals; this can be as simple as offering a discount card for each referral, or more directly asking patients to forward an email that advertises GP lenses from your office to their friends.
Explaining GP Fees and Policies
Once patients are educated on GP lens benefits and the eyecare practitioner recommends a GP lens fitting, staff should be prepared to explain fitting fees, lens costs, insurance coverage, relevant office policies, and other concerns that patients may have prior to proceeding. The practitioner should not be involved in this if at all possible; this discussion can be time consuming and should be handled by a staff member who can then smoothly transition patients to either the fitting area or to scheduling the fit once all financial questions are answered. Having this discussion prior to fitting saves much hassle and patient frustration at checkout when charges must be paid, and it prevents angry phone calls that can occur if unexpected bills are received.
In addition, having detailed policies explaining GP fitting and lens fees, as well as consistent information regarding returns, exchanges, and warranties, ensures uniform staff explanations and patient understanding. Each staff member should be trained to understand these policies, given examples of the best ways to explain and justify the policies to patients, and required to practice answering common questions that might arise during this discussion. They also need to be familiar with insurance coverage, time requirements both for the eyecare practitioner and staff when scheduling, and expected laboratory delivery times and shipping costs.
Communicating with the Laboratory
Assuming everyone is on board, patients then either proceed with the contact lens fitting or will be scheduled for an empirical fitting with ordered trials. Familiarizing staff with ordering procedures and speaking with laboratory consultants can save the eyecare practitioner a great deal of time.
Many GP lenses can be ordered empirically and fit quite successfully by providing laboratory consultants with refraction, keratometry readings, and basic patient information. Teaching staff laboratory phone numbers, account information, and ordering basics will facilitate easier orders. Depending on practitioner confidence, staff also can forward topography data or even video clips of trial fits to order lenses or facilitate lens remakes in more complex cases.
Quality Care and Handling Instruction
High quality application/removal and care/compliance training is critical to creating patient trust and confidence in new GP lenses. Patients will likely spend a great amount of time learning from a staff member, who must be well versed in all aspects of GP lens handling, care, and compliance. Staff should have personal experience in GP lens wear and sufficient practice with applying and removing GP lenses (all types that the practitioner may fit, from corneal GPs to hybrid designs to scleral lenses) on themselves and on other staff.
Staff need to know what GP lens care solutions are appropriate, where to obtain them, and approximately what they might cost, and also what ancillary rewetting drops or enzymes may be necessary. This part of the GP lens fitting process is often ignored by practitioners and left for staff to perform alone, but it is best if the eyecare practitioner is an active part of this patient experience. Patients feel more comfortable if the practitioner occasionally stops by to offer encouragement or tips, and it also allows the eyecare practitioner to make sure that, as time goes on, the quality of the class education does not diminish. While practitioners should not be overbearing or afraid to delegate this task, like any other staff skill set, it still requires frequent monitoring to avoid staff forgetfulness or laziness in completion over time.
A folder of information, given to each new lens wearer, should include instructions that the staff follows during the class. It should also include a checklist of do’s and don’ts that the staff should review with patients. Better patient compliance and more consistent follow-through with instruction will occur if training matches the information that patients take home.
In addition to basic lens wear information, these folders can contain marketing materials, links to online application/removal video demonstrations, copies of policies and fee explanations, coupons for sunglasses or backup glasses, and more.
Of course, many patients will not read all of the provided information, but it is there to offer convenient answers to missed or forgotten questions. It also can protect the practice if a patient claims he was not informed or trained properly. Frequent staff attention is required to keep these folders stocked and available; in lieu of hard copies, this information could alternatively be sent via email to patients during or soon after their appointment.
Keeping Track of Your GP Wearers
As the number of GP lens fittings increases in a practice, it becomes necessary to pay strict attention to the timelines required for each patient. Missed lens return/exchange deadlines, forgotten charges, and patients lost to follow up can quickly cause loss of revenue. It is easiest to prevent this by creating a schedule or chart that staff members monitor regularly (Table 1). Each patient fitting is noted by name and date, and then the date of lens ordering, dispensing, and warranty period is listed, along with notation of patient payment. This may seem tedious or redundant in some cases, but these potentially costly details are often lost as time passes.
John Doe (remake #1)
This is done in addition to proper documentation in patient charts; it does not provide proof of dispense for auditing purposes, but rather serves as a way to quickly cross-check all GP lens fits for completion without needing to go through each chart individually. It will also help verify invoices from laboratories when multiple lenses are being charged and credited. If this is too demanding, a simple wall calendar can be used by writing the name of each patient down approximately one week prior to the warranty of any ordered lens expiring. This gives the staff a reminder to check whether patients kept all recommended follow-up visits, paid for their lenses, and if all lens remakes/returns were completed.
Having a single staff member in charge of assisting an eyecare practitioner with GP lens fittings can create a close working relationship that results in efficient communication and easy, smooth fitting processes; however, it can also create a difficult, chaotic situation if that staff member leaves the practice. Inevitably, even the most loyal and dependable staff members may need to leave their job for various reasons, so practitioners are wise to cross-train and to not too heavily depend on one person alone for GP lens fitting assistance. Similarly, the more staff members are trained in GP lens fitting, the more smoothly the process will flow throughout the entire patient encounter. Table 2 contains a checklist of goals that each staff member can reference to ensure comprehensive training.
• Explain insurance coverage options for GP lenses (both routine and medically necessary) to patients for both fitting and lens fees.
• Appropriately schedule GP lens fitting and follow-up appointments based on time and staffing requirements.
• Handle basic questions regarding GP lenses on the phone or via email when speaking with a patient.
• Provide marketing material to appropriate candidates.
• Manage social media and website GP information.
• Anticipate and perform specialty testing required for GP lens fitting (topography, aberrometry, ocular coherence tomography, specular microscopy, keratometry, etc.).
• Identify good GP lens candidates based on patient history, lifestyle, and goals.
• Understand and explain basic corneal diseases and conditions that require specialty GP lenses.
• Question patients regarding contraindications to GP lens wear (medication use, dry eye, etc.).
• Present GP lens options properly to appropriate candidates.
• Predict visual acuity levels and other patient testing capabilities based on history and disease status to efficiently gather data.
• Identify, order, and manually verify (using appropriate instruments and tools) basic parameters of GP lenses (including base curve, diameter, power, material, center thickness, etc.).
DURING INTRODUCTORY GP LENS FITTING CLASSES:
• Apply and remove all types of GP lenses: corneal GPs, hybrid lenses, and scleral lenses.
• Properly explain application and removal techniques to patients for all types of GP lenses.
• Provide solution and care recommendations for all types of GP lenses.
• Explain usage, cost, and availability of solutions, rewetting drops, enzymes, and other GP lens care products.
• Outline instructions for GP lens wear (do’s and don’ts).
• Create and maintain dispensing folders/take-home information for patients.
• Explain expected ordering and receiving timeline and recommend follow ups.
AT CHECKOUT/FOLLOW UP:
• Explain and schedule follow-up appointments.
• Properly code and bill for GP lens services to all major insurers (both routine and medically necessary).
• Provide, explain, and maintain policies regarding GP lenses and related fees.
• Assist with ordering and consulting with laboratories to obtain GP lenses, remakes, and warranty replacements.
• Order, stock, and maintain inventory of GP lens care solution sample kits and accessories (fluorescein strips, Wratten filters, plungers, topical anesthetic, etc.)
• Create and maintain a tracking system to monitor fitting, warranty replacement, and lens ordering/return timelines for all GP lens patients.
• Ask useful questions during a GP lens fitting follow-up visit to troubleshoot patient complaints.
The Bottom Line
Staff training is often considered a necessary evil and dreaded by practitioners. It should instead be viewed as an investment in the practice, and as a way to make employees feel more valuable and empowered. Most employees do enjoy learning, and with encouragement and positive reinforcement will grow more confident and motivated with additional education and responsibility. Added responsibility without proper training leads to stress, mistakes, and miscommunication, not to mention a disgruntled work force.
GP lens wearers are often patients who struggle with visual disabilities that affect their quality of life. Serving them in an environment filled with positive staff encounters and superior customer service will make their experience more enjoyable. CLS
Dr. Potter owns a private practice in Sylvania, Ohio. She enjoys fitting, writing on, and lecturing on specialty contact lenses. She has received lecture honoraria from Paragon and for the Soft Toric and Presbyopic Lens Education (STAPLE) Program, sponsored by Alcon, B+L, CooperVision, and Vistakon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.