Your Nutrition Position
Should you sell supplements, or provide product access?
KIMBERLY K. REED, O.D., F.A.A.O.
The grocery and drug store’s ‘eye vitamin’ sections are rife with products. So, putting this buying decision in a patient’s hands may have poor results: At best, the patient may get a product that has a lower intake vs. what you recommended. Far worse, intake levels may exceed safe boundaries, especially when products are mixed or added to other multivitamins.
Here, I discuss two safe options for patients to obtain nutritional supplements.
By directly selling nutritional products in your office, patients leave with a product chosen for them vs. choosing one on their own. Also, stocking and dispensing a product that you specifically endorse carries weight with the patient, in terms of the importance of nutritional supplementation and, therefore, complying with your prescription. In other words, retailing products you believe in substantiates the education you provide in the chair. And, it formalizes your recommendations into something tangible to the patient. Finally, direct selling provides the potential for an additional income stream.
On the other hand, some practitioners feel direct selling tarnishes the medical model of optometry, in that it creates a “hair salon”-type atmosphere where financial motivation undermines the proper nutrition message.
Additionally, your practice inventory space may be limited. So, you must check with the supplier(s) regarding product shelf life and return policies. (Some companies do replace expiring products with fresh ones.)
Further, you must train your staff to be completely familiar with the primary purpose of each product you sell as well as intake recommendations and possible side effects, if any. The reason: Your staff is a direct representation of you. So, if they are uninformed, patients think the same about you. This results in patients thinking you really are motivated by money. Many companies provide excellent training resources online; live training sessions may also be offered.
If you like the idea of making specific recommendations, yet you don’t want in-office retailing, provide patients with access to a specific product and supplier.
Some nutritional supplement companies interface directly with the patient for ordering and shipping their product, and they provide you with product samples, staff training materials, patient education-printed materials and web-based support.
You dispense a sample of the appropriate product and a written “prescription” for the patient to order more product online. (Having a sample is essential in building trust in the product recommendation.)
The prescription contains your office information, so you receive a portion of the sale.
It’s worth considering one of these two approaches: Your patients benefit from products specifically chosen for their ocular and visual needs, and you might benefit as well. OM
DR. REED IS AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT THE NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF OPTOMETRY IN FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA., A MEMBER OF THE OCULAR NUTRITION SOCIETY AND AUTHOR OF NUMEROUS ARTICLES ON OCULAR NUTRITION, DISEASE AND PHARMACOLOGY. SHE IS ALSO A FREQUENT CONTINUING EDUCATION LECTURER. TO COMMENT ON THIS COLUMN, E-MAIL DR. REED AT KIMREED@NOVA.EDU, OR SEND COMMENTS TO OPTOMETRICMANAGEMENT@GMAIL.COM.