Article Date: 5/1/2009

How to Build The Best Future For Optometry
o.d. to o.d.

How to Build The Best Future For Optometry

Do contact lenses fit in our future? If not, then why do we get so upset when others try to make CLs their business?

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

Last month, I wrote about certification for optometry in an effort to encourage everyone to get up to speed on the real issues surrounding certification. Just think about it, do your due diligence, and form your own opinion rather than knee-jerk your way into one position or another.

This month, I want you to think about something else: Where do contact lenses fit in today's optometric practice? And, perhaps, even more importantly: Where do contact lenses fit into the future of your practice?

Two sides to the story

For as long as soft contact lenses have been available, contact lens manufacturers have been telling O.D.s that fitting contact lenses is more profitable than selling glasses, that contact lens patients are more valuable than spectacle patients and so forth. On the other hand, optometrists looking at a per-transaction comparison have told contact lens manufacturers they are wrong, that they make more money from spectacle patients than contact lens patients, and, they have the numbers to prove it. Optometrists and contact lens manufacturers continue to try to convince each other that their respective position is correct.

Don't tune out yet. This is not that same discussion all over again.

Reaching agreement

Here's one thing I found true in my practice on which I believe contact lens manufacturers and optometrists can agree: The most profitable patient is one who purchases both contact lenses and glasses and also receives medical care. The issue becomes: How does the optometrist best spend his or her time in the practice in an effort to be more profitable overall?

It seems there's a real paradox in optometric practices regarding contact lenses. The optometrists say, "contact lenses take too much time and, therefore, aren't profitable, so I'm focusing on spectacles and medical care." Yet, no one gets more upset than an optometrist if another eyecare profession tries to make contact lens fitting its business.

Why not have your cake and eat it too? Why not teach your technicians or assistants to provide contact lens care under your supervision? Opticians, technicians and assistants in your practices already possess a general understanding of the process of contact lens fittings. Those who don't have enough training and experience to accept the responsibility for fitting and managing contact lens patients on your behalf are interested in learning how to do so. By providing training up front and investing minimal time along the way, you, as the O.D. can keep contact lens patients in your practice and the profitability while at the same time tending to your medical and spectacle patients.

Bonus payments

Here's the bonus: Employees who are challenged and rewarded for accepting more responsibility feel their work is more interesting, and, therefore, stay with a practice longer than those who aren't challenged and rewarded.

Another advantage: In most optometric practices, the older the patient, the more likely you are to provide medical services. Most medical services go to patients who are already established in your practice for vision care. The best strategy isn't deciding between contact lens and spectacle patients but rather determining how to keep both, as you make the best use of your time while providing patients a better level of care than they'd receive anywhere else. OM



Optometric Management, Issue: May 2009