Optometric Management Tip # 241   -   Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Profitability in Contact Lens Practice

I often hear doctors complain about the relatively low profitability of contact lens practice, usually blaming the low lens prices offered by big box retail stores. We really do have quite a bit of control over contact lens profits, however, and Iím puzzled why more doctors donít exercise it. It seems we can become paralyzed by low prices in the marketplace. In this tip, Iíll offer a three point approach to improving contact lens net income.

Contact lens products

Back when all contact lenses were custom designed rigid lenses, doctors were protected against people shopping and one could claim that the lens design was so superior that it rightfully commanded a higher price. Well, times have changed and we need to get over our longing for the good olí days. Now, the most frequently prescribed lenses are mass produced and they are the exactly same no matter where they are purchased. But the service that goes with the sale of lenses is not all the same. If you keep your customer service levels very high and you instill a high degree of trust in your patients, you do not have to match or even come close to the lowest price in the market.

Most practices spend too much time worrying about the competition and not enough time improving internal operations and service. Forget the competition. Let a few patients who want the lowest price take their Rx out, but release the Rx gracefully so you keep the family as patients. Most patients will continue to buy lenses from you because itís convenient and they like your practice. Enhance that natural tendency by making sure your office is easy to do business with in every way.

Contact lens professional fees

Many eye care professionals grossly undercharge for their services related to contact lenses. This is an area that you have direct control over and it makes the difference between a good profit margin and a poor one. And these fees are generally not covered or restricted by vision plans, except for a mandatory discount in some cases. I charge and itemize a separate contact lens evaluation fee in addition to the eye exam fee whenever I examine a patient who wears contact lenses. Patients are informed of this fee over the phone when the appointment is scheduled and it is well-accepted in my practice. This contact lens evaluation service has become the norm among optometric practices nationally. The evaluation fee applies even if there is no change in lens prescription because it covers additional testing that I do for contact lens patients, such as over-refraction, evaluation of lens fit with the slit lamp and corneal topography.

The evaluation fee changes to a fitting fee if a significant change in lens fit, Rx or design is needed. My practice has five levels of contact lens fittings and the fees vary based upon complexity and previous wearing history. These fees may include insertion and removal training and follow-up visits.

Delegation in contact lens practice

Most eye care professionals recognize the need to delegate optical dispensing and some clinical testing duties, but they drop the ball when it comes to contact lenses. Patient education on lens insertion and removal and lens care is one element of contact lenses that has been traditionally delegated to an assistant Ė but there is so much more. As we look to increasing profitability in a field where some fees canít be increased due to market pressure, we must look to being more efficient. If a contact lens fitting can consume less doctor time and more technician time Ė it immediately becomes more profitable! Make sure you are up to date with your contact lens procedures. Lens materials, designs and prices have all changed greatly over the years and our evaluation and fitting process must change as well. Donít make things overly complex. Patients love simple and quick procedures. That actually impresses them even more than complexity.

Best wishes for continued success,

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