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THE BUSINESS OF CONTACT LENSES

IF YOU HAD ASKED ME

If you had asked me in December 2019 whether the practice that I have spent my adult life building—over the last 35 years—could be at risk of failure at the end of March 2020, I would have said that it was inconceivable. What I didn’t know in December was that a virus, believed to be mutating from likely either bats or pangolins to humans and possibly aided and abetted by the so called “wet markets” in China that smuggle in these poor creatures, would soon wreak havoc on the entire planet. Yes, it would have been inconceivable. Except that it was conceived—by a lot of people. The trouble was, hardly anyone was listening—including me.

Bill Gates gave a TED Talk in April 2015 titled, “The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready,” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Af6b_wyiwI ). In his talk, Gates said, “If anything kills 10 million people in the next few decades, it is most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.”

How right he was.

Caught Unprepared

My practice had the best January and February in its history. We were on pace to do the same in March. Then…

One of the things that I tell my externs is that within the exam room walls, I think that I am in the very top of elite contact lens practitioners; but, in my private office, I am an average eyecare practitioner at best. It’s a little ironic considering that I write a practice management column in this publication.

The truth is, I do a pretty good job of keeping my numbers in order. What I don’t do—and what most eyecare practitioners don’t do—is constantly think of ways to innovate my practice. Two colleagues of mine—one whom I have known for a long time and one who is one of my closest friends—are constantly doing that, but it does not animate me the way that it does them. I have the utmost respect for the practice management innovators like them. So, when I called the colleague who is my close friend, and we were both panicking…Well, that’s when I really panic.

In the Blink of an Eye

If you have frequently read this column, then you know that I enjoy competitive sailing. At the 2013 Lightning Class World Championships, I almost capsized making a slam maneuver to avoid another competitor who had wiped out spectacularly about 20 feet in front of me. The thing is, he was one of the best professional sailors in the world at that time and was the then reigning North American Champion. As we went by, the side of my rudder barely scraped the top of his mast as it hit the water.

So, intellectually, I know that even the very best at what they do can get into real trouble, in the blink of an eye, just like I can. It is just shocking when it happens. One minute he was right in front of me; and in the next instant, he was gone.

Keeping Things Afloat

As I write this column in late March, I think that my practice will make it. We can hold out for a few months, but the health of my practice will take some time to return to where we were at the end of February.

Yes, we did a few things to keep cash coming in, the most successful of which was, of course, my practice innovator friend’s idea: We sent out a blast email to all patients who might lose benefits and recommended that they use them. In two days, with nothing else going on because Dallas was sheltering in place, we sold almost $12,000 worth of contact lenses.

I also went to creditors to defer payments, which felt like asking for a handout. But, you do what you have to do, right?

But if you had asked me… CLS