Article Date: 11/1/2008

In Tough Economic Times, How Important is Price?
o.d. to o.d.

In Tough Economic Times, How Important is Price?

Sometimes our care for patients includes a diagnosis of their wallets. Such "care" can rob patients … and our practice.

BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

With fuel prices fluctuating, politicians jousting, the housing market shaken to it's core and the stock market trending in the wrong direction, some of you have begun to focus not only on your patients' health, but also on your perception of their needs for regular care and spending. What I'm trying to say is that the aforementioned recent developments have caused some of you, even more so than usual, to have a tendency to diagnose your patients' pocketbook and wallet rather than their anomalies and needs. While it's completely normal to have your attention diverted from your normal focus in difficult and unusual times, your patients still count on you to provide them with the same level of care to which they've become accustomed, as well the best possible recommendations for care, rather than the recommendations which you perceive the patient can afford.

Price sensitivity at what cost

This price sensitivity seems to be a burden that is unique to U.S. optometrists. Leading practice management consultants, financial advisors and patients have demonstrated that price isn't an issue when we or a member of our staff takes the time to educate patients about the value of a particular product or service.

Further, practice management consultants and magazine articles have warned us for decades about the detriment of this behavior both on our patients and our bottom line. Regardless, many of us remain unchanged.

Consider the introduction of the disposable contact lens in 1987. Manufacturers introduced the lens in a market climate that many optometrists perceived as driven by price alone. Contact lens manufacturers still packaged lenses in vials. When manufacturers promoted the new lenses, many optometrists responded: "My patients will never pay that much for lenses." We soon realized that this wasn't the case, however, as through education, our patients recognized the value in this new modality. Further, as a result, they adopted the lens to the point that it's now almost impossible to find a spherical lens sold in a vial in today's market.

History repeats itself

With the advent of single use or daily use lenses, many optometrists spoke the same words as before. And, once again patients showed us the error of our ways by finding value in this lens and adopting it so much so that it accounts for 10% of today's lens sales.

This economic downturn has been difficult for everyone, creating a sense of uncertainty in many. Yet, it has created a unique opportunity. Recognize how many times the media has referred to loss or gain in value, and each time there seems to be another facet of the economy for us to fret about. Also, recognize that those who don't understand the situation or circumstances surrounding the economy are the first to become alarmed — and to the greatest degree. Once they become educated about the various circumstances, however, much of the fear and concern disappears.

Now is the time to focus on educating your patients about value. Most important of all, recognize that a patient's perception of your worth is best described in terms of value rather than price. OM



Optometric Management, Issue: November 2008