No Hard Sell
the word out on silicone hydrogels may be easier than you think.
RENé LUTHE, Senior Associate Editor
patients to silicone hydrogel contact lenses can be tricky. These lenses carry a
higher price tag and take some adaptation time, two things patients are typically
not fond of, which makes it more difficult to convince existing contact lens wearers
to make the change. The O.D.s who've managed to overcome these obstacles may be
scattered across the country, but they tend to share the same attitude and marketing
►An educated staff
►A personal involvement in patient education.
It's all internal
While O.D.s agree that silicone hydrogel lenses don't require
an expensive marketing push from the practice manufacturer advertisements
are enough to pique interest outside the practice a few simple internal marketing
techniques can boost patient demand. In addition to posting manufacturers' signage
around the office, some O.D.s include an announcement about silicone hydrogel lenses
on their recorded phone greetings or on-hold messages. But as Thomas Bobst, O.D.,
of North Olmsted, Ohio, concludes, "The best source of new patients are successful,
happy silicone hydrogel wearers who tell their friends" and these come from
within the practice as well.
the Five Zones
by Jim Thomas, Editorial
O.D., of Columbia, Ill., recently revealed how her practice maximizes its contact
lens opportunities. In a Vistakon-sponsored presentation during the annual American
Optometric Association Congress, she said her practice sells contact lenses as a
lifestyle. "In addition to better vision and eye health, we discuss end-of-day comfort,
greater flexibility and occupational productivity," she says.
Her practice, Midwest Vision Care, presents contact
lenses to patients in "five zones": scheduling, reception, pre-exam, exam, and post-exam
during the fitting process.
During scheduling, a staff member asks
the patient if he or she wears contact lenses or spectacles. The staffer asks if
the patient would consider wearing contact lenses.
When the patient arrives, the receptionist
also asks the patient if she would consider contact lenses. Patients answer questions
about hobbies and occupation in a detailed questionnaire. The questionnaire asks
if the patient would like to eliminate the need for glasses or use contact lenses
to eliminate the need for readers.
If the patient answers yes, then during
the pre-exam, the technician will reinforce the benefits of contact lenses and perform
the appropriate tests.
If the patient says no, then Dr. Kerksick
explores their reasons during the exam. "Find out why, be proactive," urges Dr.
Kerksick. Often, objections are based on outdated or incorrect perceptions ("I was
told I couldn't wear contacts because of astigmatism") that you can correct by providing
the proper information.
During the fitting process, Midwest
Vision Care pre-appoints the next visit and recommends an annual supply of contact
lenses. "We write out the total cost, including all incentives and rebates," says
Dr. Kerksick. "This step makes patients more compliant."
During the fitting, the practice will
introduce sunglasses, spectacles and other products that meet lifestyle needs. "The
key is to develop strategies that capture the needs of the patient," she says. "It's
about offering patients more than they expect."
The five-zone approach succeeds, in
large part, due to staff involvement. "It made a big difference when the staff started
wearing contact lenses," says Dr. Kerksick.
Midwest Vision Care brings its contact
lens message to the community through involvement in local civic organizations and
schools. "I make sure that the school nurse has a supply of contact lens solution,"
she says. "It's one of the best relationships in town."
The team spirit factor
All the practitioners interviewed for this article agreed that
getting your staff behind silicone hydrogels is essential to success. Obtaining
your staff's support begins with education. Michael DePaolis, O.D., of Rochester,
N.Y., holds monthly staff meetings in which he appraises his employees of the latest
developments in contact lens technology. Once staff members have this knowledge,
they can all participate in getting the word out to patients on new technologies
such as silicone hydrogels. "There is no better way to educate and energize [staff],"
Dr. Bobst reports that he originally had his front office staff
ask all patients who called to schedule an exam if they wore contact lenses just
for the sake of scheduling exams more efficiently. But his practice recognized an
opportunity to use this encounter to encourage an interest in contact lenses.
"If the patient says he or she isn't wearing contacts, we ask
if they have ever wanted to wear them," he says. This frequently leads to a conversation
about past failures with contact lenses, which his educated front-office staff can
address with discussions about how the newest technologies address those problems.
"We've gained many new contact lens fits from this scheduling strategy, both from
patients who have just never been asked if they want to try contact lenses and from
previous dropouts," Dr. Bobst says.
In optometrist Thomas Hobbs' Warrensburg, Mo. practice, the front
office staff asks similar questions. After administering a patient questionnaire,
they direct any contact lens wearers specifically to silicone hydrogels if the patient
is not wearing them already. "If the patient isn't wearing contacts, the front office
informs [him or her] that we have contacts that will fit nearly every prescription
in revolutionary new materials," he says. They also explain the benefits that new
lenses offer over past material technology.
Technicians take the information gathered by the front desk staff
or revealed in the patient's history, and further explain the benefits of silicone
hydrogel material. These include greater oxygen transmissibility and wetta- bility
and the fact that patients can typically wear the lenses up to 30 days continuously.
Dr. Bobst trains his assistants to tailor their comments to each
patient, explaining a new contact lens that specifically addresses his or her concerns.
The technicians then tell the patient about their own experience with the lens,
or that of another patient.
You are the linchpin
For silicone hydrogel lenses to gain that ultimate stamp of legitimacy,
however, patients must hear about them from you. This is key, Glenda Secor, O.D.,
of Huntington Beach, Calif., claims. "The doctor must believe that the new lenses
are truly better." Explaining that advances in contact lens technology allow nearly
everyone to wear lenses leads to a discussion of silicone hydrogel material. "We
take the steps built by the staff and go further, relating it to the patient's prescription,
eye health and sports or hobbies," Dr. Hobbs explains.
It's also crucial that you dispel any misconceptions patients
have about silicone hydrogel lenses. Dr. Secor says that the myth she hears most
frequently is that new lenses are less comfortable than previous HEMA lenses. "We
explain that they may initially have a different sensation, but comfort will improve
with adaptation," she says. Other practitioners report needing to correct patients'
beliefs that silicone hydrogels won't work for dry eyes or are only available for
very few prescriptions, or that they can't sleep in them. "Honestly, the most significant
challenge to getting patients to try silicone hydrogels is getting docs to understand
the benefits of the contacts and that patients do want lenses that are healthier
and more comfortable over the entire wearing period," says Dr. Hobbs.
And while cost makes some patients initially reluctant to try
the lenses, the practitioners interviewed for this article insist that with a little
education and the doctor's recommendation, resistance is usually easy to overcome.
You may need additional policies to entice patients to try silicone
hydrogels. Dr. DePaolis advocates reducing any barriers to entry; his practice implemented
same-day fitting for patients. Dr. Hobbs offers a complimentary "test drive," in
which patients can wear the new lenses for two to three weeks, depending on the
modality. He estimates 70 to 75% of his patients who try the lenses choose to purchase
them. Dr. Bobst employs a simpler method: Ask them. "Many patients have never been
asked if they want to try contacts," says Dr. Bobst. "They just assume they must
not be good candidates if the doctor never brought them up.
Silicone hydrogels seem particularly suited to certain groups
of patients. Those with dry eye, for instance, seldom need much prodding to try
a lens material that promises greater wettability. Similarly, silicone hydrogels'
advantages are precisely the ones that may bring contact-lens dropouts back into
the fold. But, Dr. Bobst doesn't wait for health or comfort problems to start
he gives them to all new contact lens wearers. Dr. Secor particularly likes silicone
hydrogels for young, male patients who may not comply with wearing schedules for
daily-wear, HEMA lenses.
However, many agree that the material is an excellent match for
nearly all patients. "Why would you not offer them to everyone?" asks Dr. Hobbs.
"That would be like having a cure for cancer and only offering it to a certain patient
Optometric Management, Issue: August 2006