Article Date: 10/1/2011

Prescriptions Aren't Just for Meds

Prescriptions Aren't Just for Meds

Cultivate your chairside-dispensing business with tips from those in the know.

By Diane Donofrio Angelucci, Contributing Editor

As you plunge into your new role as a clinician, are you hesitant to broach optical topics with patients? Although you may be at ease with medical aspects of patient care, you may not be comfortable with chairside dispensing, which plays a vital role in helping patients achieve the crisp, clear vision they want and need.

Some optometrists spend so much time training that they don't want to weaken their role as “doctor” by venturing into the world of eyeglasses, frames and lenses, says Bill Nolan, vice president, Williams Consulting Group, Lincoln, Neb. “But the patient looks at the doctor not only for his recommendations for the treatment of eyes or eye care, but also for eye wear.”

There are a number of ways you can bolster your confidence in dispensing. Read on as experts share their strategies.

Lay the Groundwork

To prepare optometrists, Nolan provides scripts, encouraging them to begin a patient's visit by explaining the two parts of the exam: the first focusing on eye health; the second concentrating on the patient's vision and visual solutions

“It's not just medical and it's not just optical,” Nolan says. “It's both things in concert, and optometrists should use language such as ‘prescribe' because, if you're a patient and you're sitting in the exam room, ‘prescribe' is a more powerful word.”

Sheldon Kreda, OD, FAAO, who practices in Lauderhill, Fla., says young optometrists often believe they must discuss fee structures with patients, which makes them feel as if they're selling to patients. “I don't discuss fees or programs,” Dr. Kreda says. “I tell patients what they need, so I'm prescribing these options for them—just as I would prescription drugs.”

His staff explains to patients what he has prescribed—progressive lenses, sunglasses to protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays, computer glasses or lens enhancements, such as antireflective or scratch-resistant coatings. “It's part of the prescription. There's no reason to feel uncomfortable. You're not selling. You're making a sound medical recommendation,” he says.

Identify Patient Needs

To help patients achieve optimal vision, find out how they spend their work and leisure time by asking them to complete a lifestyle questionnaire or by talking with them about their daily habits, workplace and hobbies.

Based on this information, you can segue easily into prescribing computer glasses, recreation glasses, sunglasses or other eyewear or lens enhancements. “It's an easy transition to make, but optometrists think if they start talking about specific eyewear recommendations, somehow it diminishes their role as a doctor. In my opinion, it enhances it,” Nolan says.

Visual aids are powerful tools when explaining options. Dr. Kreda and his staff rely on computers to provide visual presentations of lens options, which also appear on the practice website. “If I want to discuss computer eyewear, I click a button and I have a visual presentation of the difference between a standard progressive and a computer progressive,” he says.

As you continue to make chairside presentations to patients, recording your presentations can help you detect areas for improvement. Furthermore, role playing can help you refine your skills. “We do a lot of role playing with the staff in the office; that's how I teach them techniques,” Dr. Kreda says.

Advance Your Optical

Once you've written your prescription, you'll want to channel patients to your optical center. Patients enter a private practice with two predetermined expectations: The quality is superior and the cost is higher. Since they are presold on the quality, the practice must convince the patient that the cost is comparable or worth the difference, Dr. Kreda says. This is where staff training plays a crucial role.

Patients need to know they can count on your optical center to provide quality products and excellent warranties. Many of Nolan's clients offer 2- and 3-year unconditional warranties, reward programs, and free repairs and adjustments. “All of those things add value,” Nolan says.

Nolan also recommends optometrists bring the optician in during the exam to offer patients a complimentary tune-up on their current eyeglasses, regardless of whether they buy their eyeglasses from their optical shop. “That way, the patient has to exit through the optical dispensary and it provides an opportunity to present your eyewear to them before they leave,” Nolan says.

Staff members are important allies in educating patients about optical offerings. To generate enthusiasm among staff, Dr. Kreda allows staff to purchase unlimited contact lenses and eyewear at cost. (Note: some company sales representatives provide contact lenses and eyewear to key staff members for free.) “This way, they're always wearing the latest and greatest frames, and they're enthusiastic about selling our products,” he explains. “Very often, patients will purchase what my staff is wearing.”

Despite your best efforts, you'll never be able to capture some patients, who will prefer to purchase their eyeglasses from discounters. “But there is a group who, if you create enough value for them, you probably will hold them because, with all things being equal, they'd like to do it all in one stop. If they identify you as their doctor and have confidence in you, they'll want to buy their eyewear from you,” Nolan says.

Develop Your Foundation

Continue to bolster your expertise by building your knowledge base. Keep up with the latest advances by reading journals and attending continuing education conferences, and bring your staff as well.

“Hire good people,” Dr. Kreda says. “There's a lot to be said about training your own people, but you can also hire people with the expertise that you don't already have. That's a way of educating yourself and bringing that expertise into the practice.”

Industry partners are also a good source of information, and sales representatives from manufacturing companies may provide continuing education seminars to train staff and clinicians about technology advances.

Reaching the Next Level

“I don't discuss fees or programs. I tell patients what they need, so I'm prescribing these options for them—just as I would prescription drugs.”—Sheldon Kreda, OD, FAAO Lauderhill, Fla.

As your confidence grows, you'll feel more comfortable recommending the vision solutions your patients need. “It takes about 3 years to get to that transition,” Nolan says, “but optometrists can do it much more quickly if they realize that patients come to them for recommendations on their eye health AND their vision needs.” nOD

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2011