Article Date: 6/1/2006

contact lenses
Marketing the New Contact Lenses
Tips for making the most of new contact lens modalities.
BY DEEPAK GUPTA, O.D., F.A.A.O.

Technological improvements in virtually every modality of contact lens wear have resulted in a vast array of products. These allow more patients than ever before to obtain the ideal contact lens-wearing experience. The emergence of new technologies in this field gives us both opportunity and responsibility. On one hand, it's a tremendous opportunity for us to grow our contact lens practices. On the other, it requires that we stay educated in this field so we can recommend the most appropriate lens for our patients.

However, many practitioners sometimes find it difficult to incorporate new lenses into their arsenal that they are comfortable with. Let's discuss five steps you can take that may help you better market the new contact lens technologies.

STEP 1: TAKE THE PROACTIVE APPROACH

Proactive means that you must actively take the time to talk to your patients about their options instead of renewing a prescription for the same lenses they've been wearing successfully for years. Even if they decide not try the new technology, it will let you educate them about their options; it will also emphasize the fact that you keep up with the latest changes in medical technology. If you think this approach is too aggressive, you should realize that patients come to us for professional advice. We are obligated, as primary eyecare providers, to recommend the contact lens that's best suited for a patient's particular lifestyle and needs.

Some worry about doing this because they have already pre-judged a patient's willingness to pay for the "extra" services. However, you should always start by recommending the best option, in your professional opinion, and letting the patient decline it, if need be. If you apply the medical model to contact lens fitting, you should base your fees on the complexity of the case, time spent and treatment plans.

Don't be afraid of charging too much; instead, make sure that patients get a sense of value in what they pay for. Value doesn't mean "less expensive." Value is available in any price bracket, and it's based on perception, not a dollar amount. For example, most people are willing to pay more for a dinner at an expensive restaurant because they get better service, wonderful ambience and exquisite food. Obviously, they would not want to pay the same amount for dinner at a fast-food restaurant. Your goal in setting fees is to make them a fair reflection of your services. By doing this, you will also offset the decreased profit that we all make on the materials side of contact lenses.

The most important part of being proactive is that you must initiate the dialogue with your patients in terms of what you think is best for them. You should ask every patient — at virtually every visit — about his or her interest in contact lenses. If you don't do this, patients may think that contact lenses aren't an option for them. That idea may be a misperception from information they've gathered from friends, co-workers or the Internet. It may be a misperception from information they have gotten from you. For example, years ago, you may have told a particular patient that soft contact lenses weren't an option because of his or her astigmatism or that bifocal contact lenses did not work. That concept is established in his or her mind and will remain there until you approach the idea again.

STEP 2: MAKE SURE THAT EVERYONE IS ON BOARD

One of the most vital aspects of successful marketing is consistency and repeatability. On the surface, this sounds like common sense, but it means more than that. It means that everyone in your office must echo the same message that you communicate.

Sometimes what happens is that patients will listen to your advice about their contact lenses and then "secretly" ask your secretary or technician for advice. For this very reason, you should make sure that your entire staff is always educated and motivated about the contact lens modalities you recommend. It might help sometimes to send them to contact lens seminars or have the sales representatives hold staff meetings to discuss new contact lenses and answer questions.

By making your whole staff aware of the latest technology in contact lenses, your patients will get the same message, which will keep them confident in you as their doctor. Therefore, take the time to convince your staff of the new lens technologies before you start convincing your patients.

STEP 3: START WITH YOUR CURRENT PATIENTS

When doctors hear the word "marketing," they often envision thousands of dollars being spent on a mail-order or advertising campaign. While expanding our practice by adding new patients is the ultimate goal, it starts with taking care of the needs of the patients you already have. You can begin by educating your patients through newsletters, mailings, brochures, videos and through your well-informed staff. Many contact lens companies are more than happy to help you with these promotional items. In addition, you can send brochures and flyers about what's new in contact lenses along with items you already send to patients — for example, with your monthly billing and recall letters.

By educating your patients about what's new, you will keep them excited, which will build loyalty and compliance. Ultimately, that means more patients return to you year after year, which is always a healthier and more profitable situation.

STEP 4: HOLD OPEN HOUSES

Many practices that co-manage LASIK hold open houses for LASIK seminars. Instead of merely discussing refractive surgery, you can use these seminars to educate patients about the new types of contact lenses. For some patients, this might mean that they ask you to fit them with contact lenses instead of choosing refractive surgery. For others, it will reinforce their decision to undergo LASIK. In either case, you and your patients win.

These open houses are most easily done when a new contact lens design comes on the market. This is often the time when local sales reps have money in their budgets for marketing these new lenses. Hence, they can be a valuable resource in paying for some or all of the expenses for holding these open houses. Open houses are enjoyable for both the doctor and the patients and generate interest in your practice. Also, they send the clear message that you are at the forefront of the contact lens industry and this generates word-of-mouth referrals.

STEP 5: EXAMPLES OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SPECIFIC LENS TYPES

Daily disposable lenses. Single-use, daily disposable lens wear is a growing modality in this country. Obviously, one of the main features of this lens type is that there's no need for cleaning or disinfection. However, patients who do not want to clean their lenses are not the only people you should recommend this lens to.

This modality is also a nice option to offer patients who are prone to solution allergy or toxicity. Patients who are heavy depositors and allergy sufferers, for whom a clean lens every day can significantly reduce the allergy response, are also appropriate candidates.

Lastly, remember the patients who might use this lens just for sports and/or social events. Some patients may want the luxury of being able to wear contact lenses for special events, but may not think about it until you approach the idea.

Toric lenses. This is an area where many patients still believe that they cannot wear soft contact lenses. The reality is that many people can wear soft, planned replacement lenses comfortably. In fact, we now have toric lens designs that offer high cylinder powers: CooperVision's Vertex Toric XR at –2.75D, –3.25D and –3.75D; Cooper's Frequency 55 Toric XR, which goes up to –5.25D, and Bausch & Lomb's Soflens 66 Toric, which goes up to 2.75D. Most other designs offer lenses going up to a –2.25D cylinder. Unlike the designs of the past, the toric lenses of today feature good comfort and vision and excellent reproducibility. Once again, this is an area where you should specifically ask patients with astigmatism if they are interested in contact lens wear.

Silicone hydrogels. Obviously, one of the uses for silicone hydrogels is for daily-wear patients who already show signs of hypoxic stress such as corneal neovascularization, microcystic keratitis or corneal edema. However, your marketing and recommendations for these lenses should not just end there. Silicone hydrogels — especially with 30-days of continuous wear — might be a nice alternative for patents who are interested in LASIK. You should recommend these lenses for any patient who is already sleeping in contact lenses, either full time or part time. As we all know, a good percentage of patients end up sleeping in their contacts despite what we tell them. Rather than annoy them — and potentially lose them — wouldn't it be better to find a modality that is safer for them? One that fits better with their particular needs and lifestyle?

Bifocal contact lenses. This is perhaps the largest expanding group of contact lens-wearing patients. Many of these patients are already wearing contact lenses and don't want to give them up; they definitely don't want to wear reading glasses. Although monovision would have been the modality of choice a decade ago, today's multifocal lenses have proven success records and can help service your aging contact lens patients.

Don't forget specialty soft lenses

Although these specialty soft contact lenses may not be a huge percentage of your contact lens practice, they can help you increase your business. Here are some patient categories to consider.

Sports enthusiasts. These patients are looking for enhancement of sports performance. The newly-introduced Nike Maxsight sport-tinted contact lens (Bausch & Lomb) offers two different tints that alter visual perception to facilitate better visual responses in certain sporting venues.

Pediatric patients. Every practitioner has his or her comfort level and guidelines as to how young to fit a child with contact lenses. With the wide variety of modalities available, the typical age of younger patients is significantly lower than in years past. This is a potentially enormous area where you should not wait for patients or their parents to ask you about contact lenses. Again, be proactive and tell them.

Pediatric patients with binocular abnormalities. Some of these patients may be children only five or six years old, so while you may not consider them for contact lenses for cosmetic reasons, you would for special circumstances. In some cases, you may want to consider having parents insert and remove silicone hydrogel lenses.

Overnight orthokeratology. Ortho-k can serve as a huge growth area for your pediatric practice. Most myopic parents are eager to listen to options that would prevent myopic progression in their children. This is one specialty O.D.s underutilize that produces excited patients and great referrals. This modality will also generate significant compensation for your time, services and expertise.

What lies ahead

Like the profession of optometry itself, the field of contact lens fitting is evolving and expanding. Modalities that we thought were not possible or ones we actively discouraged before are now considered top potential markets.

Ongoing improvements in manufacturing and research by the leading lens companies will result in continued improvements. Thus, the challenge remains up to us as primary care providers and specialists in contact lens fitting to ask the right questions of our patients. That is the only way to match their needs to what is available. By better serving our patients, we will better serve our practices as well.

Dr. Gupta practices full scope optometry in Stamford, Conn. He also serves as clinical director of The Center for Keratoconus at Stamford Ophthalmology. Send e-mail to Deegup4919@hotmail.com.



Optometric Management, Issue: June 2006