Later this month, Vision Service Plan will begin to introduce its new enhanced contact lens benefit. The Contact Lens Care Program is being phased out. This is good news for many optometrists and it is a great time to review all aspects of your contact lens practice.
For many eye care practices, a change in attitude about contact lens wear along with some changes in marketing and clinical operations can provide a nice increase in practice profitability. Many vision plans provide an allowance that is used toward contact lens services or products, and the eye care provider can charge the difference to the patient, less a small discount. This gives contact lens practice excellent potential for higher profitability.
Consider the following factors and make changes in your contact lens fitting process.
Recommend contact lenses enthusiastically. Stop being so neutral! Instead of starting a discussion with your patient about the potential problems of contact lenses, try presenting them in a very positive way. Tell the patient that new contact lens technology is fantastic and the vast majority of patients can wear contacts with ease, even if they have had difficulty in the past. Tell patients that presbyopia and astigmatism are now easily corrected and new lens modalities and materials have helped many people with dry eyes and allergies. Here is a real bold idea: bring up the idea of contact lens wear to patients rather than wait for them to ask about it.
Put free trial lenses on more people. I believe the free trial lens inventory already sitting in your office is a huge underutilized resource. Coupled with the enthusiasm in the previous point, if the OD personally asked most patients to just try on the newest and greatest lens in the office, the vast majority would agree. Make this trial process free of charge and consider it as part of your marketing program. Delegate the insertion of the trial lens to staff members so the doctor is not involved unless the patient decides to proceed with a fitting. At that point, the doctor would evaluate the lenses, consult with the patient and a fitting fee would apply. If the patient does not want to proceed with contact lenses, the technician removes and discards them. The point is that if you put trial contact lenses on many people, a high percentage will decide they want to wear them. Let the free trial take place in your optical while frames are tried on and many patients will purchase contact lenses, eyeglasses and sunglasses!
Set your fees appropriately. Many eye care professionals (ECPs) charge too little for their services. It is not necessary to try to match fees or product prices with optical chains, discount stores or Internet providers. Your patients are generally quite loyal to your practice and they want to buy from you. They value your expertise and it is convenient to get everything in one place. Test higher fee levels and judge the response, including monitoring your contact lens Rx retention rate (see more below). Generally, most patients won’t go anywhere if you raise your fees to an appropriate profit margin.
Use advanced instrumentation and build the fee into the evaluation or fitting. Position your practice as the best, not the cheapest. People will seek you out for your service and reputation rather than low prices. Establish this position by providing a higher level of service with technology such as corneal topography or specular microscopy performed on an annual basis.
Don’t make contact lens fitting more complex. Some ECPs have developed their contact lens procedures to appear more complex as a strategy to impress patients. I disagree with that approach. I think patients are more impressed when contact lenses are easy and convenient. If you delegate more of the fitting process and reduce the chair time and number of office visits, your profit margin improves. Don’t reappoint for a fitting, just dispense the lenses today!
Train your staff to sell full year supplies. Most patients will buy a full year's supply if given an incentive to do so. Here are the main points: 1) Train staff to not ask "how many boxes do you want?" Just assume the patient wants a full year. 2) Have staff members discuss the manufacturer rebate amount and assist with the process. 3) Give an additional 5% or 10% discount off your usual lens prices when patients purchase a full year's supply.
Track your CL Rx walk-out ratio. This is very important data and it is worth the trouble to track. One way to measure it is to count the number of patients each month who receive a contact lens exam but do not buy any new lenses. Divide this number by the total number of contact lens exams performed that month. The walk-out ratio should be less than 10%. If greater than that, find out why by asking patients.
A word about our sponsor
I’m very happy to acknowledge and thank Alcon as the new sponsor for the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, beginning with this issue. Alcon has a long history of excellence in eye care products, enhanced recently by the addition of the Ciba Vision line of products. I’m proud to have this new partnership. Please read the ads that are placed within each tip article and let your Alcon representatives know that you appreciate their support of this series. Welcome aboard, Alcon!
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.