Article Date: 10/1/2007

Strategies to Sustain Silicone Hydrogel Growth

Strategies to Sustain Silicone Hydrogel Growth

Here's how to pave the way to greater patient satisfaction and profits.

BY BRUCE R. HANKIN, O.D., Penfield, NY

Silicone-hydrogel contact lenses are one of the most significant advances in the history of contact lenses, offering a tremendous opportunity for increased patient satisfaction (high oxygen permeability) and practice profitability. We've been fitting these lenses in our practice for more than eight years, and approximately 70% of our current contact-lens patients are silicone-hydrogel lens wearers. These lenses are the major impetus behind our increased contact lens sales and have contributed substantially to the profitability of our practice.

Offer competitive pricing

Because we know that competition for lens sales isn't going away, we offer patients competitive pricing to avoid lost revenue to big-box retailers and/or Internet sellers. To ensure that our prices are competitive, we constantly monitor and match the leading Internet resellers rebates and specials. We also offer an additional rebate to patients who purchase an annual supply of lenses.

In addition, we provide patients with a cost-comparison sheet that lists our prices along with those of leading Internet and big-box retailers. This sheet includes our rebate, the rebates currently available from manufacturers and other sources as well as the amount insurance companies cover, to provide a net per-box price to the patient.

Through these efforts, patients often realize they can get a better deal with us. For cases in which our per-box price is higher than other alternatives, we offer an incentive to buy from us, such as a $20 spectacle credit.

In addition, we offer something the big-box retailers and Internet sellers can't — personal service, 24/7 eye care, in-office patient education software and a user-friendly practice Web site where patients can order their lenses. All these features help us retain contact-lens patients in the long-run.

Annual supply sale

It's not uncommon for patients to initially purchase a partial-year supply from their eye-care providers and then buy the rest of their annual lens supply from another source. Another challenge: patients who don't comply with the recommended replacement schedules.

We've found patients are less likely to overuse or extend the replacement schedule of their lenses when they have replacements at hand. The well-known "pantry-principle" certainly applies here. In our experience, dispensing an annual supply can increase per-patient revenue and profit by 80% to 100%. It also takes patients out of the lens-shopping loop, as they no longer need to look beyond our practice to purchase their lenses.

For instance, if a patient buys a year supply from us, and his prescription changes mid-year or he has any problems with the lenses, we exchange them. Had the patient purchased his lenses elsewhere, he may have been stuck with lenses that were inappropriate for his current prescription. As an added service, we also exchange torn lenses and provide an extra pair if the patient's supply runs out prior to her annual-exam appointment.

Stock your inventory

Keeping an in-office inventory of our most popular lenses has also helped to increase our profitability. For the lenses we fit the most — clear spherical silicone hydrogels — we keep approximately 200 boxes of each brand on hand at all times. In addition, our in-office inventory eliminates the cost of shipping and reduces our overall contact-lens costs because we are buying in bulk, allowing us to take advantage of the volume discounts and free shipping that distributors offer. Accumulating orders until we reach the minimum amount for free shipping also cuts down on the time staff members spend on placing and stocking orders. Further, we coordinate ordering of trial lenses with our inventory for even more effective bundling.

We place a sticker on each box of lenses that we dispense, reminding patients they can re-order from our Web site (, which further reduces the practice's contact lens-related costs. Because we control the ordering process, we can review every order to ensure patients receive any rebate or discount they are due. It also means we can hold the orders before sending them to the distributor, keeping in line with our goal of bulk ordering. The distributor ultimately ships the orders directly to patients, again reducing our shipping costs for this end of the transaction.

Given that a limited number of patients are refractive surgery candidates, contact lenses will continue to be a staple in optometric practice. Today's silicone-hydrogel lenses are an integral part of this picture. The Wall Street firm Robert W. Baird & Co. expects silicone hydrogel sales to exceed $1 billion and account for nearly 56% of the total domestic contact-lens market this year. Being ahead of this shift has given our practice a distinct advantage, which we can continue to build upon. OM

Dr. Hankin practices at EyeSite, a comprehensive eye care facility in Penfield, N.Y., which he founded in 1991. He has published numerous articles and has lectured worldwide.

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2007