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Forward Thinking: Where Can New Lenses Lead Your Practice?

From sclerals to daily disposables and tinted lenses, new designs can add to your practice if you're willing to change your mindset.
By Jane Cole, Contributing Editor

2/15/2016

Talk to any contact lens practitioner about the patient habits that bother them most and “failure to replace lenses on time” will always be near the top of the list. Patients have been known to come in wearing lenses that are months or even years past their expected replacement date. Despite all the education about health benefits and greater comfort from frequent or daily replacement, a fair amount of patients just don’t feel compelled to change something they perceive to be working just fine. 

Are practitioners sometimes guilty of the same inertia? Many rely on a few go-to modalities—tried and true lenses they have turned to for years because they believe in the idea, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?” If patients wearing older lenses remain truly happy and healthy, odds are they can continue without incident. But if such habits keep practitioners from exploring newer designs that might lead to more success with existing or new lens wearers, experts say it’s time to break from this routine; it could be holding the practice back. 

“We often don’t even realize the habits we develop in clinical practice,” says Mile Brujic, OD, of Premier Vision Group in Ohio. “Certain procedures and protocols become so routine that we don’t even think about them. This is most often true in our contact lens practices.” 

Many of today’s new lens designs provide patients with more comfort and clarity, and fewer limitations, than ever before. But doctors who feel their current product mix is good enough will miss out.

 Practice management consultant Gary Gerber, OD, of New Jersey adds that incorporating new lens options demonstrates a message of progress. “Just like many patients are wired and plugged in [with the latest technology] to some extent, they also expect their consumer and health care experiences to be as up to date,” he says. “If you do not offer new products, or at least mention or broadcast that you do—even if they may not be clinically appropriate for every patient—you’re sending a message that not only are you out of date, but out of touch.”




Dr. Woo prepares to take a mold of a patient's sclera with the EyePrintPro scleral lens design system. Photo: Stephanie Woo, OD

Lenses as Practice Builders
“Recent advancements make it possible to fit almost anyone in contact lenses, if they so choose,” says optometrist Gina Wesley of Complete Eye Care Medina in Minnesota. “Between the expansion of the daily disposable parameters in torics and multifocals, colored lenses, new monthly options and the wide range of prescriptive sclerals, advancements in this arena have never looked better.” 

These options offer practitioners the ability to fit a patient quicker and more effectively, which increases the value of the service offered, she adds. “Your patient appreciates the advancements and less chair time is necessary, which is better for the practice. New designs open the door to multiple contact lens prescriptions, just like we prescribe multiple spectacle prescriptions.” 

Newer lens designs also offer distinct financial benefits to the practice, in addition to their major health benefits to patients, says David Kading, OD, of Specialty Eyecare Group in Seattle. Though some of the newer options have higher price tags, Dr. Kading believes optometrists should still market these lenses to patients because of their positive effect on patient well-being. 

“As optometrists, we often don’t think our patients are willing to update beyond the old technology because it’s going to cost more money or because the patient may think that what they have is fine or good enough,” he says. “Our job is not to save our patients money or keep them in ‘good enough’ lenses, but to give them the healthiest and most appropriate option for their unique needs. With that mindset, we need to educate patients on the new designs and technologies that will ultimately serve their long-term better health.” 

Maintaining the belief in the individual as one’s best source of marketing for contact lens fittings pays off, Dr. Wesley points out. “You know exactly what this patient would benefit from, or is eligible to wear, and you can tailor your message to give that patient options. This, in turn, leads to word-of-mouth and referrals.” Initially, she discloses, in 2012 only 8% of her contact lens patient base wore a daily disposable lens; that number is up to 75% today. 

For Justin Bazan, OD, of Park Slope Eye in New York, more contact lens design options mean an achievement of better performance in both the industry and private practice. “We have seen advances in contact lens materials develop to the point where end-of-day comfort issues are minimal—if not non-existent—for many patients,” he says. And newer designs benefit wearers “because they provide the patient with the performance they demand and need,” he says. “They help benefit the practice by generating strong word of mouth and help build the practice’s positive reputation in the community.” 

Special Delivery
When Stephanie Woo, OD, joined her practice in Arizona, this board member of the Scleral Lens Education Society knew she faced a major challenge. The 25-year-old practice focused on primary care and ocular disease management, not on specialty lenses as she had hoped. However, Dr. Woo wasn’t deterred.

“I knew there had to be plenty of potential specialty contact lens patients out there that just didn’t know what options they had,” she says. “I was committed to recommending specialty contact lenses to any patient who was a good candidate.” Most of her current specialty lens wearers began as ‘regular’ patients sitting in her chair for their annual eye or contact lens exam. Today, Dr. Woo estimates she sees three to four returning specialty lens patients on a daily basis and performs three to five new fits per week. These include gas permeable (GP), bitoric, GP multifocals, scleral lenses for regular and irregular corneas, scleral multifocals, soft custom lenses, prosthetic soft lenses, orthokeratology, myopia control, hybrid lenses, hybrid multifocals and EyePrint ocular prosthetic lenses.

By offering specialty lenses, Dr. Woo gives options to patients who thought they would never see that clearly again. This is both truly rewarding in the personal sense and also a benefit to her practice, she says. 

“Specialty contact lens patients are extremely loyal to the practice, and offering this unique service helps our business grow,” Dr. Woo explains. “Specialty lens patients are some of the happiest patients, and they are quick to refer all of their friends and family to the clinic. It gives us the opportunity to help many people.”

For other optometrists looking to add specialty lenses to their practices, her marketing advice is simple: explain to the patient during the exam why they would be a good candidate. Dr. Woo also suggests directing the patient to try a new contact lens, letting them know it may improve their vision and also reassuring them that if the lens doesn’t improve vision or if the fit is uncomfortable, they can always return to wearing their old contacts or glasses.


 
Encouraging contact lens patients to share their experience on social media is another way to market your practice. It builds word of mouth about what makes your care unique.

“This statement puts patients at ease, knowing they are not inadvertently committing to these lenses if things don’t work out. Most of my patients are willing to at least try a specialty lens if they understand why they need it.” 

Dr. Kading points out that sclerals are one of the hottest areas of growth in the contact lens industry. “I think custom lenses are one of the biggest innovations in the past few years, and they are also providing a dramatic impact on patients’ lives,” he explains. While it’s true that scleral lenses can generate substantial revenue for the practice, he says, “more importantly, the patients who need them are often on disability, unable to work, can’t see well or comfortably go about their day. And, we’re able to quickly improve their life. What could be better than that?”

Day-to-Day Benefits
Daily disposable contact lens options are another distinct piece of the market, one that has benefited from materials advances in recent years that improve comfort without compromising quality. One of the best ways to introduce the possibility of daily disposable contact lenses to patients is to simply ask how comfortable they are in their current lenses. When doing so, avoid simple yes/no questions. You want to engage the patient in conversation.

 “A number of patients who come into our contact lens practices are less comfortable in their lenses than we think they are,” explains Dr. Brujic. He adds that while a patient may say they are happy and comfortable in their current lens, they may actually be very close to petering out of contact lens wear. As a method of dropout detection, Dr. Brujic routinely asks his patients to rate their comfort level 10 minutes after they place lenses on their eyes in the morning on a scale of one to 10. Then, he asks his patients to grade their comfort five to 10 minutes prior to removing the lenses in the evening. 

“We have found, in these seemingly happy contact lens wearers, that there is a precipitous drop.” He’ll then investigate closely at the slit lamp for clinical factors affecting the ocular surface. “But, it also gives me a great opportunity to talk about new technologies,” he says.

Dr. Kading estimates the newer generation of daily disposables represents 93% of his contact lens wearer population. In addition to greater comfort, Dr. Kading believes dailies are the healthiest and most innovative of the soft lens options for his patients. Patients who are recommended dailies tend to purchase their lenses at regular intervals. “Being compliant is obviously better for the patient’s health,” he says. Typically, a sale of daily disposable lenses pays the practice double what a monthly disposable lens would pay. To offset the higher cost of the lenses for the patient, he typically informs them they will save between $200 and $400 annually by not having to purchase contact lens solution. 

“That profitability is obviously much appreciated,” Dr. Kading acknowledges, “but again, first and foremost, we want to do what is in the best interest of the patient.”

Targeting Presbyopes
Many of today’s presbyopes want to lose their glasses—and new multifocal contact lens designs provide attractive options for patients as well as another avenue to expand a practice. This is an often-cited area of practice where old habits and misperceptions do a disservice to patients and practices alike. Multifocal lenses, while still requiring patient adaptation and realistic expectations, have evolved rapidly in recent years.  

Dr. Kading believes that the use of practice management software can help identify patients that are suited for newer presbyopia lens designs, giving practitioners the opportunity to target them through direct mail, social media and e-mail. He says that from a marketing standpoint, it’s best to specifically target the appropriate patient base for multifocal lenses, so practitioners can avoid coming across in an inappropriate manner to those who are not good candidates. Additionally, it saves time. “It’s like sending out a Lipitor commercial to the mass public,” he explains. “It’s definitely going to benefit some people, but for others, it’s going to be a waste of time and money. We want to make sure our marketing is very pointed.” 

For those who’ve previously worn or at least tried multifocals, eliciting the source of their dissatisfaction can help you tailor the new message. What one patient struggled with—e.g., reduced comfort, poor intermediate vision, astigmatism—another might not even notice. This is a good opportunity to explain that today’s options are likely better than when they first tried and failed.

The opportunity to expand your contact lens practice and increase your bottom line has never been greater. For those still clinging on to their usual contact lens staples, your colleagues suggest it’s high time for a change.

“My challenge for you is to think about why you are selecting the lenses that you are and remember that there is a large armamentarium of lenses to select from that may better benefit your patient,” Dr. Brujic says. “Do this and you will reinvigorate your contact lens practice, not only in enhancing your perspective on lens selection but also by providing your patients the best lens possible.”    



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