Article Date: 7/1/2001

o.d. to o.d.
Competing with 1-800
It's not price or convenience patients seek from mail-order companies.
BY NEIL B. GAILMARD, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

I had a problem with my office phone bill last month. My previous month's payment hadn't been credited. So, I made the dreaded phone call to AT&T, eventually hoping to speak to a human, but knowing that was asking too much. I persisted through the maze of menus and various attempts to get me to hang-up and log onto the Web site.

Finally -- a human!

I was pleased when a real person finally spoke to me. Andrea was quite helpful and easily fixed my billing problem. I was about to hang up when she said, "By the way, Dr. Gailmard, I see you're not enrolled in the optimum calling plan."

Andrea suggested I switch to the All-In-One Plan, with a much lower rate per minute for long distance. I was surprised and skeptical, but I listened. In short, Andrea painlessly converted me to a better plan.

Did AT&T just decide to be benevolent that day? Of course not.

Andrea's unprovoked good deed was aimed at keeping me as a customer, in the face of much competition. AT&T knows that a long-term customer is more important than a short-term financial gain.

Competition in contact lenses

As O.D.s, we're facing formidable competition in an area we once had all to ourselves: contact lenses. The 1-800 and dot-com contact lens dispensers are doing real well. People obviously like them. And these people are our patients -- or were.

Some O.D.s are ready to just give up and say they won't bother dispensing materials. That's a shame because I know we could successfully compete. After all, we had the patient first, which is a huge advantage.

What's the lure?

The reason patients seek lenses from 1-800 places is not for convenience (it doesn't get any easier than me handing them their boxes of lenses at their annual exam or shipping them, if the patient prefers). It's not for price (most optometrists are quite competitive). It's to avoid what patients perceive as unnecessary exams or annual bundled service fees.

Of course, contact lenses do require certain standards of care, and we must protect the eye health of patients. But if we look at contact lens policies in many practices, some really are extremely complex.

I think many colleagues are trying to make a statement about the importance of eye health care by requiring numerous visits and annual agreements, maybe because they feel it's a form of patient education. Or, maybe it's fee justification.

Patients will pay high fees for excellent service, but they won't pay for something they don't think they need. Patients are telling us that they want contact lens care to be simple. As long as it's within the boundaries of good, ethical care -- we should listen.


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2001