Article Date: 1/1/2009

Introduce Contact Lenses to Patients
contact lens management

Introduce Contact Lenses to Patients

Use one or more of these three tips to break the ice.

SUSAN KOVACICH, O.D., F.A.A.O.

Studies have revealed that very few eyecare practitioners initiate a discussion with patients about the possibility of contact lens wear.1 In speaking with my colleagues, I believe the primary reason for this is practitioner fear that doing so will make them appear to patients as "pushy" or as a salesman, rather than as an astute eyecare practitioner. I understand this apprehension. However, it's important to mention that we do our patients a great disservice by not initiating a conversation with them about contact lens wear. After all, many patients can benefit from this vision-correction device, and patients depend on us to educate them about any product or product(s) that may improve their vision and/or quality of life.

Something else to keep in mind: Just because a patient doesn't ask about contact lens wear, doesn't necessarily mean he's not interested. In fact, patients have told me that they just assumed they weren't contact lens candidates because their previous eye doctor never addressed the possibility with them.

Further, a European contact lens industry study showed that contact lens wearers are more profitable than spectacle wearers for a practice, as they not only require a constant supply of lenses but occasionally purchase glasses or sunglasses while renewing their lens order. In fact, the study revealed that on average, contact lens patients were 60% more profitable than spectacle-wearing patients.2

So, how can you introduce contact lens wear to patients without feeling or appearing as "pushy" or as a salesman? I've found success by following one or more of these three methods:

1. Use the patient in-take/history form.

In knowing that the purpose of the patient in-take/history form is to obtain information regarding the patient's medical/ocular history and vision needs, patients expect you to ask form-related follow-up questions. As a result, you can use this form as a non-aggressive means of gauging one's interest in contact lens wear.

Simply include these four questions:

1. "What do you do for a living?" Contact lens wear can be beneficial for several occupations. For instance, both police officers and firefighters can benefit from contact lens wear, as spectacles can encumber job performance. In addition, child daycare workers or nannies can benefit from wearing contact lenses because babies and small children often grab at spectacles. Further, contact lenses benefit those who want to maintain a youthful appearance at their place of employment. (Age discrimination is a universal workforce concern).

2. "What are your hobbies?" This is an important question to ask, as spectacle wear can hinder certain hobbies, such as sports. Constant movement is not conducive to spectacle wear. Also, seeing through the scope of a rifle, for example, is a real chore with glasses. I've found that most patients welcome any information that may make a hobby, especially sports, easier and more enjoyable than before.

3. "Have you ever considered contact lens wear?" A "Yes" response to this question opens the door to further discussion with the patient. Simply say: "I see here that you may be interested in contact lens wear. If I feel you're a good candidate, would you like to hear about the different types of currently available lenses that may benefit you?" I've found that when I discuss any eyecare product in terms of benefits relative to the patient, "selling" doesn't enter the patient's mind.

4. "Have you worn contact lenses in the past?" A "Yes" answer allows you to ask: "May I ask why you decided to discontinue contact lens wear?" The answer or answers to this question may then enable you to re-fit the patient. This is because the obstacle or obstacles may no longer exist. For example, if the patient says dryness caused him to revert to spectacles, educate him about how the latest lens materials may solve this problem. Again, because you're educating the patient about how the latest technology may benefit him, he won't view you as pushy or making a sales pitch.

A bonus: Even if the patient isn't interested in contact lens wear at the time of this visit, in knowing that you fit contact lenses he'll likely return to you, should he, a family member or friend develop an interest and have questions. This, in turn, may lead to referrals and future fittings.

2. Educate the patient about his refractive status.

Using the patient's refractive status to initiate a conversation about contact lens wear is logical and, therefore, easy. Because you now know the patient's prescription, he expects you to inform him of his vision correction options.

I often say: "Did you know that you have a prescription which can be relatively simple to correct with contact lenses?" I am still amazed when patients who have as little as 1.00D of regular astigmatism reply: "Really? My previous eye doctor said I'd never be able to wear contact lenses."

Use this chair time to mention contact lens options as well. I've discovered that for some reason most patients believe contact lens wear is an all-or-nothing endeavor. In other words, they think that contact lenses are made exclusively for all-day use. Dispel this widely believed falsehood by educating patients, particularly those who have ocular sensitivity, such as dry eye and allergies, that occasional wear is indeed an option. I've found that many patients, such as athletes and those who want to be spectacle free for social occasions, greatly appreciate this information.

3. Employ industry marketing materials.

Place contact lens company posters, promotional displays and informational brochures in both your reception room and throughout your exam rooms. As with the aforementioned tips, these items provide a non-confrontational way of educating patients about your ability to fit contact lenses. In addition, they often prompt patients to ask related questions, enabling you to discuss contact lens wear as an option.

When a patient has a brochure in his hand while in the exam room waiting for you, it's obvious the patient wants to talk about it. (See "The Danger in Omitting Key Information," below.)

The Danger in Omitting Key Information
After introducing contact lenses to a patient and receiving a positive response, do not fit lenses without also including a discussion of:
• Contact lens fitting fees
• Lens cost
• Lens care cost
• The "challenge" of a prescription, if applicable. (You want to immediately let the patient know that it may take several visits to correct his vision adequately.)
• Lens care regimen (i.e. wearing and lens replacement schedule, solution use, storage case replacement and maintaining hygiene)
By not including these points as part of your initial contact lens discussion, a patient may feel that "selling product" is indeed your motivation and seek his eyecare elsewhere. So, be upfront and educate the patient about all these points from the beginning.

The three aforementioned ice-breakers should alleviate your fears of appearing as a salesman or pushy because they're all linked with the eye exam visit. As a result, patients won't view you as an aggressive vender, but rather as an expert practitioner who wants to provide them with the best eye care. OM

1. CibaVision Data on File 2004

2. Ritson M. Which Patients are More Profitable? This study set out to determine the lifetime profitability of contact lens patients and spectacles patients. Contact Lens Spectrum. 2006;21(3):38-42.


DR. KOVACICH GRADUATED FROM INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF OPTOMETRY AND COMPLETED A HOSPITAL-BASED RESIDENCY AT THE ST. LOUIS VAMC. IN 1998, SHE RETURNED TO IU AS A CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND IS CO-DIRECTOR OF THE CONTACT LENS CLINIC. E-MAIL HER AT SKOVACH@INDIANA.EDU.

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2009