Article Date: 8/1/2006

contact lenses
No Hard Sell Required

Getting the word out on silicone hydrogels may be easier than you think.
RENé LUTHE, Senior Associate Editor

Switching 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 plan:

►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.

Master the Five Zones
by Jim Thomas, Editorial Director

Kelly Kerksick, 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]," he says.

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.

What works

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.

Forget demographics

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 demographic."

Optometric Management, Issue: August 2006