Eye care practitioners have become increasingly cognizant of the role of ocular nutrition and its effects on the eyes. Specifically, studies show the benefits of supplementation in treating AMD, diabetic retinopathy and, for the purpose of this article, dry eye disease (DED). Additionally, in my experience, patients are interested in the role of nutrition in maintaining their ocular health. As such, it is increasingly beneficial for the eye care practitioner to understand and embrace nutrition as an important aspect of patient care.
To do so, we must understand the various patient-delivery avenues. These include a retail setting, in-office or internet acquisition.
Here I will review each of these channels and their related pros and cons.
In this first model, a patient is given direction from a practitioner before going out to find the prescribed ocular nutritional supplement through retail means. This includes either going in to a store or looking online.
Pros: In this scenario, the benefit to the practitioner is that the responsibility for accessing the ocular nutritional supplement is solely on the patient. From a patient’s perspective, the advantage is the opportunity to search for the prescribed ocular nutrient and purchase from wherever she would like. For example, some patients may have memberships to mass merchandise stores that give them access to the recommended ocular nutritional supplement at a low cost.
Cons: The disadvantage, from a practitioner’s perspective, is that he is depending on the patient to find the appropriate ocular nutritional supplement to take. This, at times, can be difficult for a patient because of the number of choices available.
Thus, the recommended supplement may be difficult for the patient to find, creating a barrier to access. Also, it is oftentimes difficult for patients to determine the quality of the formulations they are purchasing at traditional retail settings to ensure they contain exactly what has been prescribed.
In this second model of accessing ocular nutritional supplements, the patient accesses what she needs directly from the eye care practitioner.
Pros: In this instance, the advantage from the eye care practitioner’s perspective is that he would know the patient is utilizing the exact formulation prescribed. Additionally, there would be a potential profit to the eye care practitioner from retailing directly from his office. From a patient’s perspective, the advantage to this model is convenience, at least initially, because the patient would, theoretically, leave with her supply of recommended supplements.
Cons: Disadvantages to retailing ocular nutritional supplements within the practice include that it requires an inventory to be held in the practice, and, thus, takes up physical space. Additionally, there is a cash investment for the supply of ocular nutritional supplements. There is also a management burden of maintaining appropriate inventory.
The disadvantage from a patient’s perspective is that she may be paying a premium for the product. Also, if the supply runs out, it may be inconvenient for her to get back to the practice to purchase more during regular business hours.
In this third option, the patient purchases the ocular nutritional supplement from a website given to the patient by the practitioner. The patient may enter identifying information, such as his name or a specific code, for the O.D., on the website at the time of ordering.
Pros: From an eye care practitioner’s perspective, the advantage is the practitioner would know what ocular nutritional supplement the patient is using. Another advantage is that the practitioner doesn’t have to stock any products in his practice, instead directing patients to the website. Also, the identifying information used by the patient while ordering then provides a financial benefit to the eye care practitioner. Advantages to the patient: customer service. Through the website, the patient will have access to individuals trained by the manufacturer who can answer specific questions about the product patients may purchase. Additionally, manufacturers using this method often provide subscription-type services to the patient. In opting into this, patients are receiving a continuous supply, as recommended by the eye care practitioner, a process that aids chances of patient compliance.
Cons: From a patient perspective, a disadvantage may be that the patient has technical difficulties accessing the website and locating the ocular nutrient if she is not internet savvy. Additionally, she may be confronted with competitive products that could then lead to less clarity on the type of ocular nutrient to utilize, which could negatively affect patient compliance.
Understanding the pros and cons of these dispensing methods will help you determine which may be best for your practice. It may be a combination of the options. For example, our practice initially started retailing ocular nutritional supplements because several patients were coming back to us after we prescribed what to take, not knowing which formula to purchase outside of the practice. We now provide the opportunity to purchase the ocular nutritional supplements from our practice as a convenience to the patient and to minimize any confusion regarding which formula the patient is to use. Take the time to decide which method will meet the majority of your patients’ needs. OM
Ocular Nutritional Supplements
PRACTICING MEDICAL OPTOMETRY
“DED Therapy Options”provides a list of supplement companies on p.28. The list will be updated on optometricmanagement.com .