I think many of us take contact lens practice for granted. As optometrists, we prescribe contacts and manage patients who wear them every day, but we do very little to promote the category. That is our loss because contact lens practice can be extremely profitable and it results in very loyal patients who often refer others. Let’s take a new look at this specialized service and reinvent how you position it in your practice.
Stop being old school
Have you noticed that everything is changing quickly in the retail world? The younger generations want products faster and simpler. Technology and e-commerce is leading to new expectations even when consumers visit retail stores and offices. I realize that the products we prescribe are health care devices and we have responsibilities and liabilities that the public may not understand, but I also realize that optometrists tend to be very professional and have a hard time with change.
Now is a good time to evaluate your contact lens fitting process. With the improvements we have seen in lens technology, the majority of contact lens patients can be fit easily and successfully. Try to reflect that by making your fitting procedure convenient and simple for the patient.
Let patients try a pair of contacts on in your office at no charge. Charge a fitting fee if the patient wants to go further than a try-on with your technician.
Let the free try-on occur at the same appointment as an eye exam – no reappoint necessary.
Suggest the free try-on to patients who are good candidates – even if they don’t ask.
Broaden your definition of good candidates – let it include presbyopes and astigmats. Even dry eye and allergy patients can often succeed with the right lenses.
Ask some patients if they would like to enhance their eye color.
Ask some patients if they would like to wear contacts for special activities only, like sports (including swimming) or social events. Most patients don’t know that daily disposables work great for part time use.
Don’t make the fitting process a long process. Make it simple and quick. If you did an eye exam, you have what you need.
Don’t have follow-up visits you don’t really need and let your technician perform them if there are no complications.
What would it take to get your interest?
Most ODs only fit contact lenses if the patient asks for them. We generally do not bring the subject up even to excellent candidates. We rarely recommend contacts with statements about how great they are; we are more likely to talk about the problems that could occur. It is almost as if we don’t have any time for it and we hardly make any profit. But that should not be the case. Most ODs are not that busy and you can usually control the profit margin by setting the fees where you need them to be.
Begin your new attitude about contact lenses by raising your fitting fees and ongoing evaluation fees. You may get a few patients who don’t proceed because of fees, but most will and at least you will feel good about working with them. Let the ones who are looking for the lowest price go elsewhere. Charge higher fees because you are the best and be enthusiastic about the specialty.
When we think of raising fees, we must also consider how any change will be impacted by vision plans. Contact lens fees and profits vary widely depending on the vision plan, but many still operate with a dollar allowance and the OD can collect usual and customary fees, less some discount like 15%. That makes contact lenses one of the most profitable services covered by vision plans.
Host an open house
Talk to your contact lens account rep about helping to host a promotional event in your office.
Give a brief (15 minutes) PowerPoint presentation to patients in your waiting area or optical. Present a seminar on a topic like multifocal contacts or colored contacts. Your rep may help with slides and content.
Invite good contact lens candidates to your open hours and seminar from your patient base and also invite the general public. Send email flyers or post cards and promote on social media.
Serve refreshments: coffee, soft drinks, cookies and snacks.
Offer free try-ons in your office, have all your staff work the event with you. The contact lens rep can help also.
Provide a discount off the fitting fee for any attendee who proceeds with a fitting within 30 days. Have your staff ready to schedule appointments at the event.
Schedule it in the late afternoon on a weekday and run into early evening to get the after-work crowd.
Take photos at the event and post those on your practice website and Facebook page.
Take photos of patients with contacts on using their own smartphone so they can post on their own social media sites.
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.