Article Date: 6/1/2001

contact lens management
The Annual Dispensing Advantage
How and why to use this plan in your practice.
By Larry K. Wan, O.D.

Disposable contact lenses have become such a part of vision care that it's difficult to believe they were introduced only about 12 years ago. Today, 2-week disposable contact lenses are the standard of care.

However, we're still faced with the pressures of operating efficiently and consistently delivering optimal patient care, products and services. In the fast-paced world of the Internet and modern technology, we need to upgrade the way we do things.

It's time to recognize the limitations of short-term lens dispensing and progress to an annual dispensing program. Here, I'll tell you why you should do it, and how.

What's in It for Your Patients

Why would the average contact lens wearer want to participate in an annual dispensing program? The answers are clear, as you can see:

  • it's convenient and simple
  • it's generally less expensive because of a lower average cost
  • it minimizes the risk of running out of contact lenses and urgent needs for refills
  • it provides a consistent, reliable product
  • patients get lenses delivered to their front door for free.

The headaches of small-unit dispensing

Think about how many times you've experienced the following scenario: At her annual exam, a patient leaves your office with two or our boxes of disposable lenses because that's the amount of lenses her insurance covers.

A few months later, the patient calls to order two more boxes of lenses. A staffer pulls her chart, enters the order, makes necessary notations to the chart and enters the charges. The lenses are delivered or pulled from your inventory.

A staffer phones the patient and leaves a message. Seven days pass without a response. Your staff makes another phone call and mails another postcard. The patient finally comes in at the busiest time of day. This cycle repeats itself three to four times per year, per patient.

Annual dispensing

Now think about how the scenario would play out if you offered an annual dispensing program: At her annual exam, you'd encourage the patient to participate in an annual dispensing program and present her with a list of benefits. A staffer would order lenses to be delivered directly to the patient (or pulled from stock), settle the statement, book a recall date and refile the chart. The process would repeat once a year, per patient.

An annual dispensing program has the following advantages for you:

By converting patients to an annual dispensing program, you remove them from the buying market for a year, reducing the likelihood of them purchasing lenses from alternate sources. And, most importantly, in my practice, patients in an annual dispensing program have been more likely to get their annual exams and to adhere to their prescribed wearing schedules. Annual dispensing programs save time, energy, money and improve patient retention.

Step by step

One of the most effective methods of converting to an annual dispensing program is to devise a plan that encourages multiple-box purchases and discourages small-unit dispensing. Here are steps to follow.

Charging a set premium for small-unit box dispensing discourages unnecessary office visits and phone traffic. Tiered programs become especially attractive when the "best value" plan is bundled with solutions and rebates. For example, the purchase of eight or more boxes includes free travel-size solution, a new contact lens case, in-house coupons and a company rebate.

Patient Information Sheet

Use key phrases that all patients can relate to. Here's a sample sheet. This is the method I recommend for your contact lens needs. It'll be more convenient and will save you time.

Your wearing schedule is ________________________________

Your replacement schedule is:
7 days (once a week), 10 days (day 1, 10, 20, 30), 15 days (day 1, day 15)

You currently pay for:
1 to 4 boxes: cost: ____
5 to 7 boxes: cost: ____
8 or more boxes: cost: ____

Putting it into practice

Taking a moment to review the presentation sheet with your patients sends the message that you're concerned about their eye health and lifestyle. This will impress upon them that your system has been designed in their best interests, and that you're their eye health provider for their contact lens needs.

After an examination, summarize your findings and recommend which system or program is best for the patient. Have your staff encourage and answer any additional questions the patient might have.


A Look Inside
Dr. Wan's Practice:


Location: Campbell, Calif.

Years in Practice: 18 years

Contact lens fits per month:
80 to 100 new fits

Number of staff: 25

Percentage of revenue from contact lenses: 35%

Do you use  direct-from-manufacturer contact lens delivery? Yes, avid user of manufacturers' delivery services

Percent of practice based on contact lens patients: 40%

How often do you see your contact lens patients? In general, once a year. Twice a year for extended wear.

When the patient pays her bill, it's important for your staff to reinforce these messages:

Leveraging rebates for practice growth

Some contact lens suppliers provide special rebates for multi-box purchases. Today's patient rebates are much easier to administer than those in the past, and they add terrific value for you and your patient. One new rebate goes so far as to require an eye exam and an annual dispense purchase through the examining eyecare professional to qualify for the rebate. Such rebate programs help us address patient retention while reducing the cost to patients and highlighting the importance of annual eye exams.

Get creative

Consider the big picture, but pay attention to the details. Think outside the box and develop ways to transition your disposable lens patients into annual dispensing programs. You and your patients will appreciate the benefits. 

Larry K. Wan, O.D., is one of the managing partners of Drs. Ross, Wan, Taylor and Tuan Family EyeCare Center in Campbell, Calif.

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2001