Article Date: 11/1/2003

GP contact lenses
12 Steps to GP Success
Take care of patients and business with this sometimes overlooked modality.
BY ROBERT REED, JR, O.D., St. Joseph, Mich.

As doctors, we're always trying to do what's best for our patients. At the same time, the business person in our heads wonders how we can also generate a worthwhile income? This article will provide 12 steps, which, if you choose to follow, will help you take care of your patients while also taking care of your business.

1 Recommend GPs first
If you don't present the GP contact lens option to the patient first, he'll probably request disposable contact lenses by default because that's what he "always hears about."

Of course you personally have to believe that GPs are the best choice, but because they can fit nearly every prescription, in any case where GPs are an option, I suggest them as the my first choice.

2 Offer a guarantee
We offer a "GP comfortable fit guarantee" so if a patient, especially a child, isn't convinced that he can succeed with GPs, then we tell him that his lenses will be comfortable within one to two weeks (possibly three to four if we need to reorder the lenses), or else we'll refit him in disposable lenses for no additional charge.

Our fitting fee is higher for GP lenses than for soft disposables and the time required to refit a disposable contact lens is negligible. So it's really just a question of whether you or your new GP patient is more surprised over the rapid adaptation to his new GP lenses.

3 Use lab warranties
Most laboratories will offer a warranted or nonwarranted price for contact lenses. The warranted price usually includes remakes for whatever design reason as well as a refund for "patient quit" cases. This makes our "GP comfortable fit guarantee" policy work and allows you flexibility to modify or reorder lenses as you get more practical experience.

Once you successfully fit a patient with GPs he'll need new lenses in following years. In this case you can order the nonwarranted, which increases the profit margin on the contact lenses.

4 Adjust your GP fees
Our fitting fees are higher for GPs than for disposable contact lenses. Market dynamics allow it because of less competition. We justify higher fees because GP lens fittings require greater technical skills. This has the added benefit of the patient perceiving that we're doing more for his contact lens exam.

Fitting GP contact lenses allows me to use more of my "doctor skills," which doesn't necessarily mean an increase in my chair time, but an increase in the mental calculations involved with GPs as they have more variables and options. Lens profits are likewise higher than disposables over one year, assuming that patients buy their disposable lenses from me and not a mail-order distributor.

5 Appreciating the loyal
Most of today's GP wearers have been wearing their lenses for 25 to 30 years and many are from the polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) days before the availability of GPs. These patients grew up with lenses and will not only need the "more expensive" bifocal lenses as they mature into presbyopia, but will also need the expertise that goes with successfully fitting them.

There doesn't seem to be another group of patients that exhibits more loyalty to a vision correction modality and to the doctor who provides this care than GP wearers. These patients frequently start developing dry eyes and may become candidates for punctal plugs. We don't provide plugs for everyone, but they are among the services and products that we can provide to improve a patient's vision while increasing our income.

6 Profit with ortho-k
Overnight orthokeratology offers a whole new profit center for us to explore. Suddenly patients who aren't thrilled about wearing contact lenses all the time but who don't want to undergo laser refractive procedures have another option for "eliminating" their contact lens prescription.

The bulk of the fee for this type of GP lens fit is professional fees and if you use computer software and a fitting system, it's relatively straightforward to achieve the success that you desire for your practice.

7 Involving children
Many doctors who've worked with GP lenses for years have seen the effect of fitting young, emerging myopes to help stabilize their prescriptions. Now several studies back up that anecdotal perception.

When there is a patient who exhibits a larger-than-normal change in myopia within one year or less, then suggest GPs. This is especially true if the child's parents have relatively large myopic prescriptions themselves or if they have near spherical prescription.

Because of the advancement of myopia in the single-digit age group, the idea that a child is too young for contact lenses if he's not in his teens has gone by the wayside. Even though our experience tells us that GPs definitely help control myopic drift, we let the parents know that we can't guarantee that we can control all of their child's ocular growth.

8 Call for backup
Some labs have a special rate if you order a second pair of contact lenses within 60 days from the original order. We offer this to patients as an "insurance policy," which is advantageous to our patients as well as to us. We explain that during the first year of contact lens wear a patient should expect to lose or break at least one lens just as they're getting used to wearing the lenses and don't know what to expect in certain situations.

By having a second pair of lenses, patients have an immediate backup -- and at a savings to them. If at the one-year follow-up exam a patient's parameters haven't changed, then he can wear his new pair of GP lenses and save the older pair for backup. This is a financial advantage for both the patient and the doctor.

9 Clean those lenses!
Lenses that are more durable last longer, but most will perform better with an annual polishing. This is a small investment of time and equipment on your office's part, but is all service profit and goes directly to the profitability bottom line.

10 Solution savvy
To create a steady stream of return visits as patients re-supply their solutions, we carry several brand lines of lens care solutions. We can purchase and sell complete kits at a much lower cost than patients can get at retail outlets, but with a comfortable margin for us. We let patients know what their solutions would cost at the store and recommend that they get their solutions from us.

11 Keep benefiting
In addition to having your GP patients return regularly for their solution purchases without, for example, the ongoing cost of quarterly replacing disposable lenses, you'll notice an increase in your sales of backup eyeglasses, nonprescription sunglasses and ready-made readers for near centered visual tasks.

12 Season's greetings
We have an annual December holiday special, which includes a stocking stuffer sale on GP solutions. The lab supplier usually has a year-end "special," so we're able to decrease our cost of goods and, in turn, decrease our prices on kits to patients. This results in our profits remaining intact and generates nearly $3,000 in sales alone. We limit each patient to three sale-priced kits, which they're only entitled to in December.

Patients know that the sale is coming up and many will purchase a new pair of plano sunglasses. Having patients come in at the end of the year allows us to inquire if they have any available medical plan flex money that they might be in danger of losing. If so, they frequently take this opportunity to select an updated pair of backup glasses for when they're not wearing their GPs or a spare pair of other lenses.

Tapping into an opportunity

Whether you benefit from these tips or not, this vision correction modality represents a good opportunity for you to increase the profitability of GPs in your practice. Don't let it continue to pass you by.


Looking through the business lens

Nearly every business consultant will suggest differentiating yourself from the competition. They ask how many offices fit and dispense GPs and how regularly? The common answer is a small number or else we'd see more GP wearers. With 10% to 15% of the 25 million contact lens population wearing GP contact lenses, a number of existing wearers continue to need care.

Being a GP contact lens specialist is a niche that you won't have to fight for, but it can generate a good profit return. Many areas or marketable features for GPs exist including successfully fitting in a variety of bifocal designs; marketing toward young people for potential myopia stabilization; and benefiting people who've had injuries or various refractive procedures that can't be corrected adequately any other way but with numerous toric and bitoric designs.


Dr. Reed has been a solo private practitioner since 1980. He has published and lectured nationally on topics including GP lenses, computer vision syndrome and topography, as well as staff and management issues. Dr. Reed has been a member of the Rigid Gas Permeable Lens Institute for a number of years and assists with its school workshops.


Optometric Management, Issue: November 2003