The Status of Contact Lenses in America
A wake-up call to providers and industry on how to change their approach to expand this market.
SCOT MORRIS, O.D., F.A.A.O., CONIFER, COLO.
Currently, roughly 120 million Americans are eligible to wear contact lenses. However, only an estimated 36 million Americans wear contact lenses. (See “Contact Lens Statistics,” below.)
So, why the great divide? Here, I provide a wake-up call for our industry and explain the reasons for such an untapped market, as well how we can overcome these challenges.
Failure to educate
Do we educate every patient about contact lenses for visual correction, even when they claim they aren’t potential candidates? In my experience, most consumers who do not wear contact lenses but are “contact lens eligible” have three excuses for why they are not wearing contact lenses. Here are the excuses and how you can respond:
▸ “I tried those years ago, and they didn’t work.” Don’t give in to this consumer objection and move to the glasses discussion. Challenge them (and yourself) to try one of the new technology contact lenses. Many times I find that the previous doctor made one or two attempts with one lens type and then told the consumer they were not a candidate. I suggest following this statement with, “Are you still using the same phone you had 10 years ago?”
▸ “My eyes are too dry.” This is one of the largest opportunities in eye care. The consumers tell you they have a disease state that does not allow them to wear contact lenses comfortably. Most of our industry partners are trying to figure out how to overcome this issue. Ask this patient, “Is there a reason that your previous doctor didn’t treat your dry eyes and then put you in contact lenses? Why don’t we start there? After we get your ocular surface disease under control, we can get you back into a contact lens option that will work for you. It may take a few weeks to a month to get you to where you can wear your contact lenses comfortably, but it is achievable if we work together.”
▸ “I can’t afford them.” This common misconception comes down to education about the real costs of contact lenses. Dispel this myth by explaining the real value proposition of contact lenses. Break down the price by cost per day to wear a certain modality or brand. Then, stress the convenience and functionality of contact lenses for the patient’s life.
I never fail to be amazed by the folks who complain about a $10 copay and then spend $900 on a yearly supply of daily disposable contact lenses.
Contact Lens Statistics*
U.S. Population – Approximately 314 million
Myopic population – 84 million (does not include those too young for contact lenses)
Presbyopic population older than 40 – 35 million (does not include those who are also myopic)
Eligible for contact lenses – 119 million
U.S. population wearing contact lenses – 36 million
*I originally intended for this feature to be a statistical look at the contact lens market. However, when comparing data from various sources, I found different sets of numbers existed; that is, there was no single accepted set of statistics that reflects the U.S. market.
Managed care policies
Most managed care plans create a disincentive to the consumer and provider alike when they “allow” consumers to have glasses or contact lenses, but not both. Such policies explain why more consumers aren’t wearing any and all necessary visual solutions to meet their vision correction needs.
Many of the managed care plans provide consumers a significant discount (20% to 40%) off a second pair of glasses or contact lenses. However, the managed care provider would lose no revenue and the consumer gets a deal if the provider offers the same discount for a second mode of vision correction (i.e., a discount off contact lenses when the consumer first purchases glasses). In addition, it would make a second visual solution more appealing to the consumer and the practice.
A complex business model
For many providers, being a clinician these days is simply not enough. The eyecare business model is increasing in complexity, and we need to think more like business people. This includes effective merchandising, sales training and enhancing our communication skills.
Industry’s dated approach
Instead of marketing to those who already wear contact lenses (in an effort to upgrade them to new technology or steal their business from competitors), why not build the demand for care? If all the industry — and not just a few major players —would do this, we would all see the immense “untreated” population buying products and services.
There is more than enough business to go around if the entire eyecare industry focused on a few things:
▸ Education of consumers. The average consumer visits their eyecare provider once every 2.87 years, according to a recent Vision Council report. Most of us go to the dentist twice a year, and we can replace our teeth — last time I checked, we can’t replace our vision.
The most recent Think About Your Eyes campaign was a tremendous first step for consumer education, and a great deal of gratitude needs to go to the sponsors of this program. Now, we need more of the industry to help raise awareness among the American population about the need for eye care to protect our greatest sense.
▸ Education of providers. I believe that the next decade of education needs to be much more focused on the business management side of eye care. It is becoming increasingly important to gain the exposure necessary to understand complex pricing strategies, intricate marketing strategies, supply chain and inventory management and communication enhancements, especially in the areas of sales.
▸ New technology. The last decade has seen tremendous advancements in contact lens materials, fitting profiles and solutions. This push for even greater biocompatibility across multiple platforms of lenses needs to continue. Likewise, we need better lens care/lens material compatibility development that will both decrease complication rate and help to increase compliance. The daily disposable market may truly take over the market through the next decade, dramatically improve compliance while decreasing complications, but that is yet to be seen.
Let’s renew our focus
If even a fraction of the Americans who are eligible decided to wear contact lenses, our practices would become instantly flooded, manufacturers would be overwhelmed and distributors would have to significantly increase their size.
Even more importantly, our consumers would enjoy the comfort, convenience and good vision at a fair price, all of which seems fairly achievable these days if providers and industry overcome these challenges. OM
Dr. Morris is OM’s chief optometric editor, director of Eye Consultants of Colorado, the founding partner of Ocular Technology Solutions, Inc. and managing partner of Morris Consulting Associates, a business management consultancy. Also, he is a co-founder of the National Student Practice management symposium. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to email@example.com.