Many ECPs have seen a steady increase in the number of patients buying their contact lenses from other sources. Some optometrists have just gotten used to this trend and are not paying much attention anymore. But with just a few simple steps, you can easily recapture those Rxs that are walking out of your office and while you're at it, why not start a strategy to vastly increase the percentage of patients who buy a one-year supply? Read on for how I did it in my practice.
Realize that the vast majority of your patients would prefer to buy their contacts through your office, and they will if you just give them a small reason to do so. My staff told me that our patients generally apologized as they let us know they would be buying their contacts from another source. They hated to do it, but they are smart consumers and the price difference could not be justified. I really don't blame them and if I were in their shoes, I'd probably do the same.
I strongly recommend that you always release the contact lens prescription. It's not only the law in the U.S. but it is good business practice. Patients have a right to their Rx and making it difficult to obtain creates bad will. They will still buy the lenses from your office if you make it the most attractive option.
Capturing the contact lens Rx
Follow these steps to achieve a high Rx retention rate.
Lower your product prices and raise your professional service fees. The market is very competitive for lens products, but it is not very price sensitive for your professional services. I assume your patients love your office and they don't want to go elsewhere for eye care. We've all heard that we should do this, but many ECPs have not really followed through. You may need to raise your professional fees even more than the amount you lower the materials. Adding a special procedure like corneal topography on a yearly basis may help you justify the evaluation or fitting fee; it needs to be high enough to allow you to make a nice profit on your work. In the end, your contact lens product prices should be competitive with major online vendors. Big box discount stores will still be lower than this, but the points that follow below and next week will help you compete with them as well.
Be sure your staff informs and assists patients with manufacturers' rebates. Staff members must be well informed about the details and make it easy to file the claim. The rebates offer a huge advantage to patients of independent eye care professionals when they have a yearly eye exam.
Offer your own online ordering option. There are many contact lens distributors that offer free software that you can link to your practice website that will allow your patients to order replacement lenses with a credit card. You can set the prices and you can confirm the Rxs, but the orders are fulfilled and shipped directly. You receive a check for all your sales, less a small handling fee. Your staff time is greatly reduced when patients buy lenses online and some people love the convenience.
Keep an inventory of your favorite brands of contacts. I know the trend has been to just carry trial lenses only, but give the idea of stocking lenses another look. If your patient is in your office for their annual exam, there is nothing more convenient than your staff just handing him his yearly supply of lenses. And once your patients do it that way, they become very loyal and think of your office as the source for contacts every year. The initial one-time expense of the order is not that much (do the math) and you may lock in a great price on a bulk order. You can try it with your lens of choice and if you later find you don't like the concept, just sell the stock down and don't reorder. I don't think that will happen.
Close the sale today. When you fit or refit contacts, make it a point to put together the complete package of services and products. Many ECPs will charge the professional fee at the initial visit and delay the product sale until they are sure they are not making any changes to the fit or the brand. I don't do that. Just take your best shot at the exact lenses you want to use and enter the charges for the lenses up front. There are several advantages to this approach: 1) Your staff won't forget to enter lens charges, 2) the patient will see the total fees at once and not be shocked next week when you have to charge for lenses and 3) you generate the cash flow sooner. If you have to change lens designs in a way that involves a different price, you can always give a credit or charge the additional amount. No big deal.
If patients do not want to purchase lenses from your office, give them a nice handout to take home that lists the advantages of buying contacts from your practice. Emphasize things like how well you know their case, how you and your staff are just a phone call away, how you may be able to help with an emergency replacement lens and how you'll offer free trials of lens solutions when available. See Tip # 421 for more on that. Many patients will decide to order from you after they analyze their options.
Next week I'll provide a list of steps that will help you greatly increase the percentage of patients who purchase a one-year supply of lenses.
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.