I knew this was a hot topic and your emails following last week’s article helped confirm that. Thanks for your comments and ideas on this topic and please keep them coming. Since this topic is rather big, I’m writing it in four parts. In this article, I’ll focus on your office policies about glasses purchased online.
Charging for PDs
As with many practice management issues, there is not a single correct answer to the question of charging a fee for measuring PDs. I have talked with many optometrists about this issue and some will make a very strong case for the need to charge a fee in their market. I think it is a decision that each practice owner must make and it may change as consumer buying habits evolve.
Here is why I don’t charge for PDs in my practice:
The goodwill of the patient is worth far more to me than the small fee we could generate.
When a patient wants to buy his glasses outside of my office, I try very hard to keep him and his family coming back to us for eye exams and eye health care. If they return for eye care, there is a very good chance we will recapture their optical purchases in the future, plus we still provide other services. For this reason, I do not want to create any annoyance and charging a fee for a very simple measurement can do just that. I think some patients will think the fee is just a way to try to force them to buy glasses from your office. If they feel that way, they will go elsewhere and likely never return. Realize that patients may not know what a PD measurement is at first, but they will eventually find out and when they do, they will feel ripped off. They will learn that many other eye care offices do not charge for PDs.
My staff tells patients that we provide the PD at no charge, but it is only one very basic measurement and when we make a pair of eyeglasses, we take ten measurements with a computer-based system. The PD is really not enough to make an excellent pair of glasses.
The PD is taken directly off our autorefractor printout if the patient had an exam with us. If we don’t have that, we use our old eyeglass records or a PD ruler.
We do not provide any additional measurements. We explain that many of the other measurements require us to have the exact frame on the patient’s face, and we don’t know what that frame is if the glasses are not purchased from us. Even if we had the frame present, we won’t endorse it or provide the measurements. We think the vendor should provide that service and be responsible for the accuracy of the job.
Adjustments and repairs
Adjusting and repairing prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses is one of the main factors that differentiates an online optical from a brick and mortar office. I think having a policy that your office only provides these services on glasses purchased from your office makes good sense, but you may want to go easy on the actual enforcement of the policy.
At the time of the sale, I would train staff to inform patients that you provide full support for glasses purchased from your office, but you can’t support glasses purchased elsewhere. You can include this as one of your bullet points on your educational handout: Six Reasons to Buy Your Glasses from XYZ Eye Center. You might also include adjustments and repairs as part of your eyeglass warranty.
The implementation of the policy can be a bit challenging in most offices and you may decide that providing the goodwill and great service of an occasional adjustment may be worth the staff time and effort.
Consider how your staff will actually go about checking if the pair of glasses a walk-in patient brings in for work was sold by your office. You would need the patient’s name first, which would be a good thing anyway. Then you would need to review the past eyeglass records, searching for the frame model number and color. If you already do this in your office, it would be fairly easy to decline to work on the glasses. But most offices do not check those details right now.
I think there is much to be gained by making your office extremely easy to do business with. That includes being fast and convenient. I went to a local jewelry store recently with a few watches that needed new batteries and one that needed some links removed from the metal band. I did not buy any of the watches from that store. The salespeople and jeweler could not have been nicer to me. They did not ask nor care where I bought the watches. They did not make any comments about the watches being inferior quality (which they were). They charged me a nominal price for the new batteries, but there was no charge for the labor to install them or for fixing the band. I was impressed. I have been back and have bought new products from them. Actually, I love to go there. I have told others about my experience and invariably they tell me they had the same kind of experience and they love going there also. Is that the reputation you want for your optical?
It is always smart to train your opticians to inspect any eyeglasses in front of the patient before taking them away or doing any work on them. Point out any defects and consider if the glasses are in good enough condition to work on. If not, feel free to simply say so and say that any adjustment is likely to break the frame. If the patient gives you the green light to try anyway and accepts responsibility if it breaks, you may decide to do some work. Some offices use a signed disclaimer form before working on glasses, but I think verbal is good enough in most cases. But always inspect them first.