Optometric Management Tip # 210   -   Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Contact Lens Care Products

It is certainly easy to take contact lens solutions for granted. We all pretty much pick one or two brands and they become our solutions of choice for dispensing to new contact lens patients. We also keep sample kits in the office of some alternative brands that may work for problem solving with symptomatic patients. And that’s about it for most of us. I recently heard a tip, however, that made me think differently about contact lens products, so I’m passing it on this week.

I attended the Contact Lens and Eyecare Symposium (CLES) in Orlando last week and my friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Barr, presented a very interesting lecture titled “Contact Lens State of the Industry”. Joe is editor of Contact Lens Spectrum and the e-newsletter, Contact Lenses Today, which are sister publications of Optometric Management and this Management Tip of the Week. What made the presentation interesting were Joe’s insightful comments and observations as he summarized the latest developments in contact lenses and lens care. There were many practical tips woven into this lecture, but I’ll share one with you here.

Store brands

You are likely familiar with the concept of store brands or house brands and you may have even purchased some yourself in various product lines. Large retail chain stores, from Wal-Mart to Walgreens and every other one you can name, have their own brands which are placed on the shelf next to major brands for the same personal product category. The major retailer simply makes a bulk purchase from a major industry supplier and private labels the product with their own brand name, and sells it for much less than the market leader.

If you’re buying aspirin, the store brand actually has a great reputation as a smart consumer buy, because you can make the case that the product is the same as the leading brand. Because of this, we may generalize that it is likewise OK if our patients save some money and buy the store brand contact lens multipurpose solution. That is actually not the case at all.

Advancements in technology

The main goal for the store brand is low price, and it is very likely that the formulation available at the best price is decades-old technology. There truly have been many major improvements in recent years by all the solution manufacturers in the disinfection process and for improving comfortable lens wear. It takes many years to move the newest products through research and to gain FDA approval. The major multipurpose brands have all had several refinements and improvements under their own banner label, which means they are not the same as they used to be. These latest iterations are not available as a mass retail brand.

Not broke – don’t fix

It’s easy to be a nice person and just nod in agreement when a patient says they use the big box store brand. Many doctors may not even bother to ask the patient what brand of solution they use at annual exam visits. This relates to the “not broke – don’t fix” approach. But your patient deserves your expertise and guidance, and caring is what can set your practice apart. The store brands are not “the same as” the major brand.

We should care about the brand and the formula because our patients can develop eye infections and they often suffer from mild discomfort, dry eyes and allergies with contact lens wear. Solutions truly can make a difference. Even if the patient has no complaints, we should care about the lens solution because 1) there is a preventative component and 2) some minor discomfort is accepted as normal and the patient doesn’t know any better, thus no complaint.

I’m going to give my contact lens wearers the personal touch in my practice by revamping our contact lens dispensing handout sheet to contain additional practical information about contact lens wear and care. When you think about it, there may be many factors for successful contact lens wear that we’re not communicating.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management