The following article appears in Optometric Management's January 2018 special “Contact Lens” editorial section.
ONE POSITIVE outcome of the ever-changing healthcare arena is an expansion of services that the modern optometric practice can offer consumers. Practice specialties, such as dry eye disease centers and sports vision clinics, along with new products, such as ocular nutritional supplements and cosmetics, have enabled many of us to offer patients a customized level of care that can provide alternative revenue streams, and more important, improve patient’s eye health and vision.
But are many of today’s eye care practitioners selling themselves short on one of optometry’s core services? Overwhelmed by aggressive online competitors, frustrated by changes in rebate programs and the end of unilateral pricing policies, many eye care practitioners are concerned about their ability to maintain a profitable contact lens practice in today’s environment.
Yet, there are patient-care benefits to consider: When patients purchase contact lenses in your practice, you are assured they receive the exact lenses prescribed, which were selected based on your knowledge of the patients’ health, visual and lifestyle needs.
The following strategies can help you compete with alternate channels of contact lens sellers in terms of both profitability and patient care.
MAXIMIZE YOUR EFFICIENCY
The first way to maintain a profitable contact lens practice is to provide an efficient exam experience with minimal wait times. At our practice, we have found a well-trained scribe can be invaluable when it comes to maximizing efficiency of contact lens examinations. At the conclusion of the exam, the scribe can briefly discuss pricing and process an annual supply for the patient on the spot.
Alternatively, if the patient desires to discuss pricing in greater detail, the scribe brings the patient to checkout, where our contact lens staff takes over. This process increases efficiency, while enabling the doctor to focus on clinical matters — something research shows positively impacts a patient’s willingness to purchase eye care products in-office.
Developing a loose script your staff can reference when discussing contact lens orders is a great way to facilitate an efficient and consistent ordering process. For example, our staff may discuss key benefits of daily disposable contact lenses with patients.
Have you implemented any ideas to build your contact lens practice that were not discussed here? If so, please send them to Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMPETE ON SERVICE
Three out of four U.S. consumers acknowledge having spent more at an establishment because of a history of positive customer service experiences, according to research by American Express. Our staff is trained that there is no higher priority than creating positive experiences for our patients.
Specifically, our contact lens staff creates value in purchasing from our office by informing each patient we are happy to exchange unopened boxes of contact lenses if he or she experiences a prescription change. We also remind patients we will provide a spare diagnostic lens if the patient is ever in need — a benefit online retailers are unable to offer.
In addition, our staff emphasizes the benefit of free shipping to home with the purchase of an annual supply, and we offer reasonable shipping on smaller orders.
For patients who express the desire to order lenses online, we offer this option as well, even including a small discount per box, as these orders save staff time. Certain manufacturers and distributors offer portals and other services where patients can purchase contact lenses online from their optometrists. Many of the these include options for subscription-based ordering.
EXPLORE SPECIALTY FITS
Becoming proficient in specialty contact lens fittings, such as scleral lenses, hybrids and orthokeratology, can be an excellent way to retain contact lens sales. Due to the specialized fitting process and limited online availability, patients who wear these lenses are rarely motivated to purchase their lenses elsewhere. Taking advantage of these technologies is a great way to create satisfied patients while benefitting your practice at the same time.
Specifically, my practice has found success in myopia management with soft, distance-center multifocal contact lenses. We have found a much higher in-office capture rate coinciding with the additional time and expertise required to fit and educate patients and their families on these lenses.
PRICE YOURSELF COMPETITIVELY
We all want to feel we’re getting a good deal, and our patients are no exception. It is critical your practice reviews pricing from your biggest competitors at least twice per year and adjusts accordingly. Being significantly over- or underpriced will undermine your contact lens profitability, and if you aren’t checking, you have no way of knowing where your prices stand.
You may not be able to match online prices for every lens, but you should at least be within striking distance for all the lenses you prescribe. This number will vary by lens modality and demand in your practice, but a good strategy is to be within 5% to 10% of your biggest competitor on an annual supply for each lens (including manufacturer rebate).
You may also want to consider offering a “per-box” savings on annual supply orders, perhaps $2 to $4 per box for daily disposable lenses, to encourage patients to purchase a full year of lenses at the time of their exam. Stack this savings on top of vision plan material benefits, a manufacturer rebate and free ship-to-home, and it is a tough deal to pass up for many patients.
Illustrate these savings with a customized printout, delineating your pricing, including rebates, vision benefits, etc., to the lowest price you find online. We do this and, in many cases, patients who have historically purchased their lenses online are surprised by how much they can save by ordering through us.
At checkout, have a designated staff member — who is well-versed in lens prices, rebates and vision plan material benefits — who can discuss pricing with the patient. This pays dividends when it comes to maximizing sales of annual supplies.
ASSESS PRACTICE COSTS
The other side of the pricing coin are your costs. Regularly explore these, whether you use a buying group or purchase directly from the manufacturer. Even the busiest optometric practice cannot compete with online manufacturers in terms of quantity sold, so it is critical to ensure you are minimizing your costs when it comes to pricing, shipping charges and miscellaneous expenses in purchasing the contact lenses.
Two ways to consider maximizing savings: (1) Consider that it may be beneficial to use different suppliers for different products, especially with recent changes in pricing offered by some distributors, and (2) contemplate carrying an inventory or bank of your most popular lenses. (Remember, it never hurts to request better pricing from a distributor.)
So, there you have it – one doctor’s recipe for combatting retail contact lens sellers in today’s competitive environment. Although changes in health care and consumer purchasing habits will certainly continue to evolve, with a little creativity and a healthy dose of motivation, today’s eye care practitioners can maintain contact lenses as a tried-and-true core service. OM