Article Date: 3/1/2008

11 Best Practices for Your Dispensary
optical best practices

11 Best Practices for Your Dispensary

The success of your practice is largely contingent on the success of your dispensary.

BY RUTH ANN HAM, LDO, ABOC, NCLE, Jacksonville, Fla.

A total of 65% of your practice's revenue comes from your optical dispensary, according to the latest numbers from the American Optometric Association. As a result, it's essential you offer patients a stylish display, high-quality products and service to ensure they buy their eyewear from you.

The following 11 tips will give you an excellent chance of accomplishing this goal.

1 Make your dispensary inviting.

Today's fashion in designing the optical dispensary offers the opportunity for you to create your own unique decor. Whether your office is in a historic building, a strip mall or an upscale shopping center, you have the freedom to create your own look. One of the keys to attracting patients to your optical is to base its design on the demographics of the area in which your practice is located. For instance, if your practice is located in a college town, you'll most likely attract college students by decorating the dispensary in the college's colors.

Or, if your office is located in an historic area, you may choose to use oak or mahogany sideboards and serving tables with large-framed mirrors to capture the area's historic feel.

The bottom line: Your frame-display area should be one in which your patients feel comfortable browsing and trying on frames.

2 Educate the patient on eyewear in the exam room.

Patients rely on you, their eye-care practitioner, to make lens and frame recommendations that will best suit their needs. As a result, make sure your patient-history questionnaire includes lifestyle questions, such as "What do you do for a living," or "What are your hobbies?" The answers to these questions will uncover needs, such as: polycarbonate lenses for safety in certain occupations, durable frames (flexible titanium or spring hinges) for that extra active patient, polarized sunwear for the outdoor enthusiast, etc. (See "Sunwear Protection").

All these factors may influence frame choices and will lend efficiency to the selection process, while enhancing patient satisfaction.

3 Have staff welcome patients into the dispensary.

Just as your front-desk staff greets patients, your optical staff should greet patients as well. They should do this when the patient first enters the reception room and when you walk the patient to the dispensary at the conclusion of his exam. Patients, as consumers, gravitate toward areas that, and people who make them feel welcome and valued.

4 Establish patient trust with the optical staff.

When finished with the exam on a first-time office visit, introduce the patient to the optical professional. Provide credentials to establish that this staff member is a trained professional. In addition, on every visit, review your patient recommendations with the optician in front of the patient. If you're busy, a tech can relay the information and reinforce that the recommendation has come from you.

These actions solidify for the patient that your practice is comprised of a team of knowledgeable, experienced and caring professionals.

Your recommendation must carry over to the optical. Therefore, it's the optical staff's duty to continue the education process.

Don't Overlook Sunwear Protection
■ Recent research concludes that our eyes need protection from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. Therefore, the doctor and the optical staff should make a specific recommendation regarding sunwear for each patient based on their specific needs. Your optical staff should understand the basics of sunwear, which are described below.
I've found that polarized lenses offer the best sunwear protection available. Not only do they reduce the amount of visible light, but they address the problem of blinding glare. Research confirms the danger glare creates on the roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 168 deaths were reported in 2002, due to the sun's glare. A "best practice" optical understands and communicates this information.
Another way to provide sun protection is to recommend photochromic products. Although these lenses aren't polarized, the latest photochromic technology offers UV protection and a lens that becomes as clear as regular glasses indoors, while changing quickly to sunglass-dark, outdoors. Other options are clip-ons (now manufactured to match the frame and polarized lenses) or products designed to wear over prescription eyewear.

5 Have staff continue the education process.

Your frame-display area should be one in which your patients feel comfortable browsing and trying on frames. (See "Put Lenses First") To ensure they have this experience, begin the frame-selection process by having your staff recommend four or five frames that meet their lens requirements. This eliminates the need for patients to go elsewhere to find a frame. (Most often, they will not choose to go elsewhere, but if they do, they may not return to your optical for their purchase if you don't offer many choices.) Then, allow patients to browse on their own.

Patients want to know how eye wear will benefit them.

Keep in mind that patients want staff to educate them about how the frames and lenses they've selected and the frames staff has selected will benefit them. This is because this education allows patients to make an informed decision.

For instance, show the cosmetic difference between an antireflective lens vs. a conventional lens or the difference in thickness between new materials and conventional lenses. To increase sales of rimless eyewear, have your staff take advantage of manufacturer demo units. For example, compact "fitting table" units are available to enable your optical professionals to demonstrate the benefits of polarized lenses vs. conventional lenses, allowing for patient understanding. (I've found that such devices speak volumes, in terms of educating patients and enabling me to dispense lenses.)

6 Have staff offer patients a second pair.

Train your staff never to assume patients want only one pair of eyewear. Instead, have them carefully assess the job and hobbies of the patient, so they can determine if the patient would benefit from more than one pair.

An example: If a stay-at-home mom says that her lifestyle consists of juggling three young children, your staff can infer from this comment that this patient's children scratch her lenses or break her frames. This is the staff's opportunity to recommend back-up spectacles. The benefit for the patient is that she'll be able to use the back-up pair when her eye wear becomes injured.

Remember: If your staff explain the benefits of the second pair, the patient will most likely leave your practice with an additional pair of eye wear.

7 Strive for unparalleled customer service.

In today's competitive optical market, most optical dispensaries have access to a majority of the products available, so one of the ways to set your business apart from your competitors is to provide customer service that is superior in every way.

One of the ways you can do this: Have your staff make patients aware that adjustments of their eyewear are provided at no charge, and to encourage them to take advantage of this service. Because comfort and function of the eyewear is the final determining factor of patient satisfaction, an accurate adjustment is crucial.

Educate patients that normal wear and life activities often create the need for occasional frame adjustments that may occur prior to their next exam. For instance, multifocal lenses are useless to the patient if they slide down his nose. So, let patients know that if after a few days, they feel a frame or lens adjustment is needed, they can bring in their eye wear for a free adjustment. This will give your practice a competitive advantage.

Consider service a comprehensive experience that starts with the introduction and carries through to sending a thank-you note after the sale. To build new business, you might consider including with the note, a discount coupon for an additional pair of glasses that can be used by the patient, a family member or friend.

8 Offer quality frames and lenses.

Always stock quality frames. They minimize patient dissatisfaction and require less service after the sale than easily breakable and poorly made frames. In addition, manufacturers of quality frames usually offer extended warranties. Some frame manufacturers may also assign you exclusive rights of distribution to their products, which creates your own draw and a unique opportunity in the marketplace.

Put Lenses First
■ Patients are first inclined to gravitate to the frame displays to select a frame. The problem with this scenario: The patient's prescription may influence the frame choice. To preclude patients from doing this, have a staff member educate the patient on this fact and then assess the patient's prescription to determine the lens requirements and best frames based on these requirements. Staff should choose:
► a symmetrical shape for strong prescriptions, avoiding a deep or sharp corner.
► a small frame when the lenses are high minus to minimize edge thickness.
► a deep shape for progressive lenses to allow for the corridor.
► a full frame instead of rimlon to minimize edge thickness, if the lenses are high plus.
► A bridge width that centers the lens area over the eyes for even edge thickness in strong prescriptions.

9 Choose your wholesale lens supplier based on service.

You save money when the supplier:
• Grinds lenses correctly the first time.
• Offers lens warranties that you can extend to your patient.
• Offers availability to all the new products in a timely fashion.
• Provides demos and point-of-purchase materials used for demonstrations.

In addition, a customer-focused optical lab will notify you of a delay in an order, allowing you to quickly notify the patient. Usually, patients are much more tolerant of a delay if you call them before they have to call you. Some labs may even provide alternative glasses for the patient to wear during the delay.

Something else to consider: Some labs offer a professional, single-point-of-contact for all orders. This person is familiar with how your practice operates. The contact can answer questions about invoices and communicate critical information, such as eyewear delays.

10 Base inventory on patient demographics.

Determine frame selection by evaluating the demographics of your patient base, so you can buy just what you need. But, understand that it's necessary to have a few frames in every category: high-end, low-end, athletic (both sport and swimming), children's, etc. Patients want to see selection, even if the frame or lens doesn't pertain to them.

11 Conduct regular training for staff.

The optical staff must know lens materials, lens designs and options to make the best recommendation for your patient's needs.

Have your optical professional conduct in-office staff training. Consider meeting once a month. Have all staff, including doctors, attend. During the meeting, have the head optician teach her fellow staff members basic optics. The training facilitates better staff communication and more professionalism.

The entire staff becomes empowered when they understand the importance of accurate measurements and the meaning of common terms, such as progressive-addition lenses, PD or pupillary distance, seg heights, lined bifocals, AR, photochromics, UV, rimless and other terms.

Demonstrate tools, sample products and other items from the optical in these training sessions. You may want to invite your lab contact to attend on occasion, so he can also provide education.

Attention to detail in the areas I've mentioned and a periodic review of them is essential to ensure your dispensary thrives. Working together as a team with patient satisfaction as a focus will create "word of mouth" advertising and referrals. OM

Ms. Ham is a licensed optician, certified by the American Board of Opticianry and the National Contact Lens Examiners. She has managed independent optical practices and optical practices within optometric and ophthalmological practices. She provides consulting services and training in the areas of sales, customer service and ophthalmic optics. E-mail her at Ruth

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2008