Article Date: 8/1/2005

contacts
Positioning  Premium Contact Lenses in Your Practice
Offering patients the latest generation of silicone hydrogels can solve problems and generate enthusiasm.
BY STEPHEN COHEN, O.D., Scottsdale, Ariz.

It's not enough to simply have satisfied patients; we need to have enthusiastic patients! Enthusiastic patients maintain the highest level of loyalty and generate the most referrals. Enthusiastic patients are a key to practice success and profitability.


ILLUSTRATION BY TODD DAMAN

One successful method of achieving a high level of patient enthusiasm is to prescribe premium contact lenses. Today, we have access to lens designs with the latest technology that provide the greatest health benefits to the eye and address a host of problems. Prescribing premium lenses is part of meeting our obligations as eye health providers. It also enables you to offer patients the latest and best technology available, which often delights patients.

Among the premium lenses available to us, the emergence of the next generation of hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses holds perhaps the most promise to achieve these goals. The way we present these new high-performance products is critical to successfully upgrading patients to these new lenses. When we make a discussion of eye health the central theme of our eye exam and present the benefits honestly, we are serving the best interests of our patients. In the process, we are building lasting, value-based relationships with them.

The following are practical tips to success in prescribing this new generation of premium contact lenses.

Talk the talk

In presenting hyper-permeable silicone-hydrogel contact lenses, use "consumer-friendly" language. In our practice, for example, I liken the comparison to that of cassette audiotapes vs. CDs, and VHS videotapes vs. DVDs. I explain that while both new and old formats work, one provides a better listening or viewing experience. The same is true in contact lenses: There is old technology that works fine and new technology that features additional benefits.

As consumers, we're all interested in upgraded technology. Yesterday's "new technology" becomes obsolete quickly, and today's consumers understand that. As health care providers, we need to recognize that same mindset applies here.

With existing contact lens wearers, I explain that there is nothing wrong with what they're currently wearing — but something much better is now available. I don't even mention terms like "silicone hydrogel" and "hyper-permeable." I explain: "There are new lenses that allow more oxygen to reach the cornea and stay better lubricated later in the day. This promotes better comfort throughout the day, less redness and better eye health. You also may experience sharper vision toward the end of the day."

Typically, if a patient's first question to me is, "What do these new lenses cost?" then I haven't done a good enough job in my presentation. By educating patients first about health benefits, such as UV protection, they should see the added value outweighs the cost.

Nevertheless, don't shy away from the cost discussion. Explain the lenses cost only a few dollars more than what you're paying now, and the benefits far outweigh the difference in cost. This should demonstrate the value to the patient.

Again, look at consumer examples. We may hate infomercials, but the truth is they work. They emphasize all of the benefits of a product. Then, at the end, you hear the price, but if you've already seen all the benefits, the consumer response is typically, "Well, that's not so much for all of the things I'm getting."

Worth a thousand words

Once I put a hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel lens on a patient's eye, I come back in 10 minutes and ask how it feels. They've experienced the "Wow factor" on their own by this point.

With other benefits, it's sometimes good to raise expectations — and let the patient experience the physical improvements later on. We explain to patients that, with hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel lenses, they may experience less end-of-day redness and less dryness. Remind patients that part of the pleasure of wearing hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel lenses comes at the end of the day when the lenses are removed.

Here in Arizona, our patients live in an extremely dry environment. It often seems like if you can fit contact lenses here, you can fit them anywhere. Hyper-permeable silicone hydrogels offer an alternative for patients who have failed or who have experienced a lot of discomfort with past contact lens wear in our arid climate.

But dryness is an issue globally. Eyecare practices report increased instances of dryness from exposure to challenging, dry environments while patients are wearing contact lenses. There are several reasons for this: Our population is aging and often relocating to sunny and arid climates in the Sunbelt; we spend more time staring at computer screens and less time blinking; we also endure harsh environmental conditions such as dry, sealed and air-conditioned homes and offices.

Some patients who experience dryness in these kinds of conditions don't tell their eyecare practitioner about it. Others experience dryness, but never connect it to contact lens wear. In both cases, hyper-permeable silicone-hydrogels can go a long way to relieving the problem.

Even mild symptoms should be addressed. Someone who feels "a little dryness" today could be tomorrow's dropout. They could easily say, "Well, my lenses aren't that comfortable anymore, I'll just put them in the drawer and wear glasses for a while."

This is your chance to be proactive: Promote hyper-permeable contact lenses to anyone who complains of dryness or redness or blurriness. And, if patients don't report dryness, inquire about it. In the process, we can distinguish ourselves as "specialists" in these comfort and dryness issues and — by prescribing hyper-permeable contact lenses that solve problems — distinguish ourselves as premium contact lens specialists.

Patient perspective

In any practice, you're going to have patients who hear about something new but are not inclined to try it. They want to stay with what they know works. There is a practice benefit to be captured here, too: a perception benefit.

Even if a patient opts not to upgrade to hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses, they've heard you presenting the benefits of a new cutting-edge product. Patients know your practice is one where the latest and most health-beneficial products are available.

Conversely, if a patient hears about something new from a friend or co-worker, they may say, "Well, why didn't my doctor tell me about that?" Even worse, their friend may say, "You should come to my doctor. He's always telling me about new things that are coming out."

Our staff also plays a huge role in reinforcing the availability of premium materials like hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses. However, staff members also can sabotage a positive message delivered by the doctor or other staff members about new products. For example, if a staff member is under the impression that a certain lens is costly, they might indicate that the lenses are good, but they're very expensive. Or if the staff member is not up-to-date with advances in technology, their lack of information about a new lens could adversely affect a patient's interest and confidence.

Accordingly, it's important that everyone on your staff shares your enthusiasm. Keep your staff educated about the latest technology available in your office. Have staff members be promoters and not nay-sayers.

Even though staff members play a key role, you must take the lead in recommending premium contact lenses. Like it or not, when doctors talk to a patient about a new product — they're prescribing. When anyone else on staff talks about a new product — they're selling. Patients want our professional recommendations. They're far more likely to follow instructions for what has been "prescribed" to them than what has been "sold" to them.

In an eyecare practice, one voice needs to reinforce the other. A provider might choose to just introduce the idea of upgrading to hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses and then say, "Sue will talk to you about that." When I'm involved directly in prescribing a premium lens, it doesn't require much time to do so. To reiterate, patients want to hear about new options from us. They want our best recommendations.

Keep looking ahead

In order to succeed, we need to keep looking further down the road. If we spend time and energy watching our every step, we may someday look up and find ourselves on a completely different road.

In 20 years of practice, one of the biggest changes I have seen is the switch from running a primarily fee-for-service office to practicing under the influence of managed care. This brought downward pressures on materials and reimbursement schedules and accelerated the pace of patient exams.

More recently, our patients began drifting off to consumer-direct sources for replacement contact lenses. We thought for a long time that mail order was beating us on price, but it turned out they were beating us on convenience. Our best tool against that is to provide better service — and to constantly demonstrate to our patients that we're looking out for their eye health.

Prescribing hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses is a key in communicating that message. We need to continue to discuss eye health and then inform patients of new features and innovations.

We need to stay on top of new advances in technology — and present new premium products like hyper-permeable silicone hydrogel contact lenses to our patients in terms that they under- stand.

Let's be proactive in our behavior. Introduce new technology. Present value above cost. These are key ingredients in generating patient satisfaction — indeed, patient enthusiasm — and in capturing practice success.

Stephen Cohen, O.D., is in private practice and serves as a consultant to Vistakon, a Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.



Optometric Management, Issue: August 2005