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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor September 13, 2006 - Tip #243 
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Presenting Contact Lens Fees

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Additional Information

A recent tip article on contact lens profitability prompted lots of emails about fees, so I'll cover many of the questions in this tip. How we present contact lens professional fees to patients, such as those for evaluation or refitting, can make a huge difference in how the fee is perceived. So much so that if you and your staff handle it well, you can raise the fees to higher levels.

Get the right attitude

First, make sure that you and your staff never adopt an apologetic or defensive posture about the fee. Remind yourself and your staff that contact lens prescription and management is a very specialized heath care service that you trained many years to perfect, and that education is continuous. It deserves a high fee. If you can't make a very good profit on this service, then why provide it? There is no need to try to price match low-end providers on services or materials. We all know they exist, but most eye care professionals are better off keeping their services at a very high level. You can't do that and charge low fees. If a patient really wants low prices, don't try to stop him. That is his choice and be confident that he will get what he pays for. When you adopt the high quality/high fee attitude, most patients will sense the higher level of service and will not want to go to a cheap place.

Tell patients in advance

I'm very big on this point, but many practices think it's too difficult. It really isn't. Most patients don't mind relatively high fees; they just hate to be surprised by them. They hate thinking they were taken advantage of; that someone pulled a fast one on them. If you don't mention a fee in advance and if the patient did not know to expect it, it will feel that way.

Refitting fees can be presented in person at the exam chair because the patient can decline if they so choose. The main services provided at that visit are an eye exam and contact lens evaluation. Those fees need to be mentioned over the phone. That means that the receptionist must ask the caller if he is a contact lens wearer or look that point up on the practice management system as they speak.

Stating the fees in advance makes them seem quite legitimate and fair. It is very rare that proactively stating the fee and payment policy will prompt an objection, but if it does, you're better off getting that out in the open before the visit. The bonus for staff is that they will never have to face a confrontation at the front desk after services have been provided.

Refitting fees

My definition of a contact lens refit is a significant change in lens brand, material or design from what the patient is currently wearing. What is "significant" is a professional judgment you'll have to make.

I believe in structuring your exam and evaluation fee high enough that you can be generous with your definition of a refit and not increase the fee for minor changes. That way, when you do need to charge the higher refit fee, it's easy to explain and justify because you really know in your heart that there is more work involved.

For example, a patient wearing lens brand A, who is very happy and has no complaints actually has acuity of 20/30 in the left eye. You find the patient needs an extra -.50 power. This is not considered a refit in my office and no follow-up care is needed. A CL evaluation fee is charged - but that would have occurred even if there had been no power change. Just be extremely honest with yourself about the change and the work involved. I can even see a base curve change or brand change not being a big deal. I never require follow-up visits if they aren't really needed.

Presenting the fee

Either the doctor or the contact lens technician should discuss the refit fee and any increase in lens materials fees as the fitting process is started. The fees should simply be mentioned as the benefits of the new modality are reviewed. We work on the assumption that the fee is acceptable until told otherwise; we don't ask if it is. Placing the emphasis on the features and benefits the patient will realize with the new lens, and stating the one-time fitting fee and lens cost as a side note will lead to good results. It's important to relate the discussion to the patient complaint, if there was one. If there wasn't, then the refit should either relate to an objective ocular health sign the doctor discovered, or relate to the general improved lens technology providing more oxygen, resistance to dryness resistance, or other benefits.

Here is an example of what your technician might say as she is getting ready to apply new diagnostic lenses. "These new silicone hydrogel lenses offer great comfort and wettability and should help you leave your lenses on longer, Mrs. Smith. They are the very latest technology. This requires an extra fitting examination, which we are doing now, and a one week follow-up visit. The fitting fee is $XX, which includes the follow-up, and the lenses are $YY per 6-pack. Let's put on the free trial pair and see how they feel."

If the patient balks at the fee, which will be rare, then understand that the complaint or the benefits are not that important to the patient and accept that. Try to just leave the patient in the same lens they were wearing or switch to a more economical choice. There is nothing wrong with wanting to save money; you just need to know what the patient wants. It's not a rejection.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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