Is This the New Norm?
Is the Commoditization of Contact Lenses the New Norm?
BY MILE BRUJIC, OD, FAAO, & DAVID L. KADING, OD, FAAO
Are contact lenses becoming a commodity? We have been asked this question in the contact lens arena for years. Recently, our industry has come under scrutiny by some retailers who want to further advance the commoditization of contact lenses. It raises the question of whether we have already mentally crossed the threshold and moved contact lenses out of the medical device category into luxury items that can be bought and sold with minimal emphasis placed on their long-term effects. And thus the question of the month: Is the commoditization of contact lenses the new normal?
As the patient population, retailers, and some politicians are pulling us in a direction of less cost and less emphasis on health, we feel that for some eyecare practitioners, the answer is a threatening “Yes.” And for that reason, we do not want to be normal. Do you?
Investopedia’s website defines a commodity as a “basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type.” It goes on to say that: “the quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across producers” (www.investopedia.com/terms/c/commodity.asp).
I can see how lay people can get confused. To some patients, a contact lens is a “basic good” that they use year in and year out to help themselves see. They may see commercials on television that shower them with the features of a particular lens and offer a “free trial,” leading them to further commoditize the lenses in their minds.
For some practitioners, when these patients arrive in the clinic, they see contact lenses as a product that patients can request. We have all had patients come in requesting a certain brand of contact lenses because their neighbor wears them and “loves them.” Perhaps some of us fail to move patients from one lens to another or to a different replacement regimen because “the quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across” contact lenses.
In reality, improvements to lens materials and designs, innovations, and replacement schedules, matched with the value of meeting patients’ individual needs, are the very things that decommoditize contact lenses in our offices. Federal and state politicians don’t see the corneal ulcers and scars that we see that deprive patients of their vision. And although untrained eyes may see contact lenses as a commodity, they have likely never seen the comfort-related benefits that new designs and materials provide to the patients wearing these lenses.
So we implore you to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Prescribe contact lenses to your patients rather than just recommending them. Share with patients that you are moving them to the newest and best technology because you see that it will benefit their ocular health.
Stop thinking about the finances of contact lenses and how much it might cost patients. Instead, believe in what you know is best for your patients and prescribe them those lenses. Anything else would be the commoditization of contact lenses. CLS
Dr. Brujic is a partner of Premier Vision Group, a three-location optometric practice in northwest Ohio. He has received honoraria in the past two years for speaking, writing, participating in an advisory capacity, or research from Alcon Laboratories, B+L, Bruder, Optovue, RPS, SpecialEyes, and VMax Vision and has received research funding from Optovue and SpecialEyes. Dr. Kading owns the Specialty Dry Eye and Contact Lens Center in Seattle. He is the co-owner of Optometric Insights with Dr. Mile Brujic. He has received honoraria for consulting, performing research, speaking, and/or writing from Alcon Laboratories, Allergan, Bausch + Lomb, CooperVision, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Oculus, OptoVue, RPS Detectors, Paragon Vision Sciences, TearScience, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Valley Contax, VSO, ZeaVision, and Zeiss. Follow him on Twitter @davekading.