Article Submission Guidelines for Practice Management, EHR, Glaucoma, and Managed Care

Exclusive Date: September 18, 2013

Is it Time to Start Charging for Frame Adjustments?

 Sponsor: AIR OPTIX® AQUA Multifocal Contact Lenses

As most readers know, I favor a very patient-friendly approach to practice management; I've always been in the camp that does not charge patients for eyeglass adjustments or even for minor repairs. But as I monitor the still very small number of patients who buy their glasses online or from other local providers, I realize I should treat those patients differently. I now propose that we still perform the usual optical adjustments and repairs at no charge for patients who bought their glasses from my office, but that we charge a fee to those who need services and bought the glasses elsewhere. I'm sure many of you arrived at this point before I did, but better late than never!

Online optical
In the past, so few of the glasses we worked on came from other sources that there was no reason to bother checking on that point. In the rare case that the glasses did not come from our office, we chalked it up as a goodwill gesture and hoped the patent would buy from us next time.

The gradual increase of eyeglass sales on the internet is causing more people to call on us for adjustments and repairs to eyeglasses than we had before. We've always had some patients opt to take their spectacle Rx out and buy glasses elsewhere, but until recently, they could always return to that office or store for repairs and adjustments. Obviously, there is no place to go when you buy glasses online and you need service later. These folks will naturally go to their optometrist. This need is cumulative over the years that online optical has existed and is becoming significant, even though sales of prescription glasses online is still around 3% and have not increased over the past four years.

Is it worth the identification step?
To begin charging an adjustment fee for non-purchased eyewear, your staff will need to require the patient's name before they do any work on his glasses. In addition to the patient's name, we should also know the name of the frame and color in order for the optician to identify if some pairs of glasses were purchased from the practice by this patient and other pairs were not. While this checking process is time consuming, there are some big benefits.

One of the benefits is that many of the patients we see in optical every day are past due for eye exams. If your receptionist obtains each person's name before calling an optician, she can check the last exam date and write it down. The optician can then mention the need for an exam to patients who are past due and ask if they would like to schedule the appointment right now. This definitely works and you can read more about this technique in Tip #539.

The policy helps Rx retention
Another great reason to adopt the policy of charging for optical service on eyewear bought elsewhere is that you can tell that to patients when they are considering going elsewhere. Generally, these patients are in your optical with your staff and they have not decided if they will walk or not. Some of them are "showrooming" you, as it is called. It does not happen often, but some people try on frames and speak to your optician, and then Google the frame name and model on their smartphone. They can instantly see many online vendors selling the exact same frame for much less than you. But just because a product can be purchased for less does not make it a good value. There are many optical services that come with buying a frame from my office and it is only fair that none of those services should be available if the frame is purchased elsewhere. The price on the internet is just for the product – our price reflects our service, our facility, our expertise and much more.

When my optician is working with a patient who is considering his options, I want to let him know that we offer lifetime service on eyeglasses that are purchased from us, but we charge a fee to work on glasses that are purchased elsewhere. We even have a handout that describes our optical services in more detail.

Frames on the internet; not lenses
Be aware that a growing number of patients will buy a new frame on the internet and bring it to your office to have lenses made for it. This is a trend we should keep an eye on. Patients realize that a specific frame model is exactly the same no matter where they buy it, but lenses are not as easily compared. Lenses are more complex and many people want our expertise and custom measurements on that aspect of the glasses.

This could become a reason to carry more independent frame lines that are only sold to eye care professionals. I am not making a big shift just yet because many people love the designer name brands and they sell well, but the mix is always up for evaluation and could change over time.

Monitor your Spectacle Rx retention rate!
A key metric to monitor as you navigate these new factors in the competitive optical landscape is your actual eyeglass Rx retention rate (capture rate). This should be more accurate than just dividing the number of glasses sold by the number of refractions. Review Tip #590 for a detailed method of tracking this important statistic. I get this data every month in my practice and my retention rate for July was 92%!

Best wishes for continued success,

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