Article Date: 2/1/2005

contact lens
Putting Humpty Together Again
This O.D. proposes a solution to increase contact lens sales and patient satisfaction.
BY JERRY LIEBLEIN, O.D., Montara, Calif.

Over the past 40 years, I've watched the contact lens field grow into a major profit center for optometry and then break apart. Humpty Dumpty has fallen. What happened?

Experts tell us that some patients opt for surgery. Others surf the Web and search for alternative sources for price and product. Also note that the retail market for contact lenses and solution products is about $2.75 billion, yet eyecare practitioners' (ECPs') sales of the lenses and solutions represent only one-third of this market.

Exposing the myths

We can put the contact lens business back together for ECPs, but before we do we need to examine the myths surrounding contact lenses in our practices.

Myth 1 There's no profit in the contact lens field.

Myth 2 We must sell product at cost to be competitive.

Myth 3 We can't make money on solutions.

Myth 4 Our patients don't get their lenses at alternative sources.

Myth 5 The contact lens market is really flat.

Certainly, medical modalities will emerge to correct vision problems and surgical techniques will have their place. But what can we do now? First, we must eliminate the contact lens myths from our thinking. Second, we must assess and change our mode of contact lens delivery. Otherwise, the contact lens portion of our practices will go the way of local food markets.

Tallying up the numbers

In assessing our practices, let's look at the real-time world and determine how many contact lens patients your practice loses each year. A simple method is to count the number of new contact lens patients you fit yearly and compare them to the previous year's patients.

When one practice measured, it found that 30% of its patients purchased their contact lenses through an alternative source. By taking corrective measures, the practice reduced the loss to 8%.

Driving patients away

According to Dr. Jerry Sude of Novus Clinic, we drive our patients to non-optical outlets by giving away samples of solutions. We're told that there's no money in solutions, so we give away free kits that contain solutions.

Yet each time your practice dispenses a starter kit, you drive your patient to an alternative source for his lenses. How? The patient doesn't refill his solution through your practice, he goes to a drug store, super market or a mass merchandiser. And he often doesn't leave with only the solution; he receives a receipt and a coupon for a future eye exam or contact lens purchase. This is an effective example of target marketing -- at your expense.

The required solution

In speaking with contact lens specialists from across the country, I'm more confident than ever that we have access to the tools needed to put the pieces back together and regain control of our patients. What's required is a program where we deliver contact lenses and solutions directly to patients at home. Dr. Doug Villella stated that he saved $16,100 the first year that he provided patients with such a program. He also reduced patient loss from 35% to 8%.

The first step in this program is to educate patients that you're prescribing lenses (writing the prescription) and the proper solution on a bi-monthly or monthly basis. Then everything will fall into place. Explain to patients that you recommend home delivery. Next, the practice must deliver contact lenses on a timely basis. And finally, you must include solutions and lenses in one convenient package.

If you presents the lens with the proper solution and write a prescription with a set delivery time, then you'll have delivered professional care. Research indicates that patients don't leave a practice for price alone, although when all else fails, it is an issue.

The process starts in the chair where we develop a trusting relationship with our patients. Once we establish trust, loyalty follows. Loyal patients don't leave a practice because of pricing issues. If the patient feels that the doctor has delivered a quality product at an acceptable price, then the patient won't shop around.

Putting it together

In summary, the procedure that is needed:

The obvious benefits of such a system are:

Any takers?

At this time, only one company (Sauflon) offers this type of patient retention program in the United States. I don't know whether other companies will join in, but I do believe that this type of program can and will put the pieces back together.


Dr. Lieblein is president of Visual Alternatives, Inc. and is an internationally known facilitator for information-sharing groups and lectures on practice management. You can reach him at (650) 728-9779.


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2005