Like most optometric practices, my office once offered three different levels of progressive lenses to our patients. Our opticians would review the features and benefits of the most advanced progressive and how it differed from premium and standard progressives. We always tried to start with the best, but many patients would still buy the lower level products to save money. Some of our staff members struggled with explaining why one level of progressive is better than another. Heck, even I struggle with that a bit!
Now, I’m simplifying our product offerings in our optical and I believe we are improving the patient experience, saving staff time and making a better profit margin on optical products. I asked myself why we give the patient so many choices about lens design and material when they are really not in a position to make the best decision. I don’t think most patients really want to make those decisions and they do not enjoy the process. It is too technical for most patients. What if we just offered one progressive, one antireflective lens and let’s consider something innovative for the lens material? Life would be better.
Your lens design and brand of choice and even the optical laboratory may change from time to time, but you can simplify all that for the patient and just offer one progressive at one price point. You as the optometrist and practice owner can decide what that lens design should be and set the price wherever you see fit. We must remember that the prices for optical products also include a lot of professional dispensing services at the time of the sale and for years to follow. Our markups are higher than many retail products because of this built-in service.
Your decision on what lens to use can be based on a combination of factors such as visual performance, availability of various materials, professional experience and wholesale cost. You may use a different lens brand for private pay and for each vision plan. You may have a long corridor and a short corridor. But all of that can be behind the scenes with zero patient involvement. You could offer patients one progressive at one price and have a lens usage guide for your staff to use behind the scenes when the order is placed.
The same principle applies to antireflective levels of quality. Why offer the inferior product at all? We could just have one AR coating at one price. Of course, we strongly recommend AR on all eyeglasses. There may be some choices for the patient now with blue-blocking technology, but I would keep the choices to a minimum and not add inferior categories.
Vision plan options
What about participation with vision plans that offer many different levels of quality with each at a different co-pay and profit margin? We need to honor our provider agreements and make products available to patients who want them, but that does not mean we must review every product and every category. As eye care professionals (ECPs), we are permitted to give our recommendation to the patient on the best lens design for their prescription and visual needs. In my office, we start with the best and most advanced product in each category. In most cases, the patient is perfectly agreeable to that. If a patient asks for a lower priced option, we have those available also. We want patients to be happy and we work with them.
As ophthalmic lens technology has evolved, we are now presented with many options for lens materials, such as CR-39, poly, Trivex, high index 1.60, 1.67 and 1.74. Optometrists and opticians have their preferences and we don’t always agree, but it can be very confusing when patients are asked to make a choice. This is another lens product decision that really is handled better by the ECPs in the practice and it can easily be made based on lens power. We can specify ranges of lens prescriptions and what lens material is advised. You could indicate if the sphere power is from plano to -1 we use this and -1 to -2 we use that and so on. You may feel that plus lenses should be made with different material.
Of course, some lens materials cost more than others, so simply build that into the base lens price. There is no need to burden the patient with all that; some prescriptions are more expensive than others because they require a different type of plastic. We always design lenses for the best combination of features, such as clearest vision with few distortions, thin and light weight, UV protection, etc.
Imagine how much easier the eyeglass ordering process could be if your optician said: “Mrs. Smith, the doctor has prescribed a progressive lens for you with AR. Let’s select a frame.” The time saved from all the lens discussions can be used to design a second or third pair of glasses. There will still be a few lens options that need to be offered in some cases, such as Transitions, the type of sun lens, task-specific glasses, and once in a while other special features, but I think simpler is better.