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Blinded by the Light?

Just because something works once doesn’t mean that it always will, or that it could never be surpassed by something even better.
By Gary Gerber, OD

9/15/2015


Many of us have read or heard practice management advice that goes something like this: “If you want your patients to do X, tell them Y.” For example, “If you want to have more patients purchase annual supplies of contact lenses, tell them the price is less per box if they buy eight boxes than if they buy only one.”

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? So, after hearing this suggestion, you return to your practice and mention it to your next patient. And either it works or it doesn’t. In either case—success or failure—the question becomes, what do you do next? Does this one result give you enough information from which to craft a new strategy? How much can you extrapolate from a single data point? Not much. No scientist would attempt to draw conclusions from a study with a sample size of n=1. But in business matters, we have a harder time seeing the shortcomings of such an approach.

If the patient responded the way you had hoped and agreed to the bulk purchase, a few factors will help you determine if this approach is worth continuing or not. First, will your patient have a better or worse clinical outcome with a year’s supply of lenses on hand? Studies suggest that it will generally be more favorable because patient compliance is typically higher when they have more lenses at the ready. However, is that going to be the case for this particular patient, or will they be one of those outliers who hoard their lenses? Since this remains a possibility, if you choose to use this strategy your definition of “success” should include a system of checks and balances so that when lens hoarders return, you don’t make the same mistake. 

Next—and in my view most importantly—make sure that viewing this as a successful strategy and thus worthy of routine use, doesn’t close the door to other strategies that may be even better. For example, what would happen if you presented the lenses to the patient and said, “When you buy a year’s supply of lenses, you will never run out,” but you never mentioned the discount? Do you think as many patients would take you up on your offer? Even if only 10% fewer did, what would the effect be on the increased revenue you’d generate by not offering a discount? Alternatively, don’t assume that the lack of a volume discount will lead to fewer sales. It can (and often does) lead to more, depending on how you present the situation.

Stay Flexible
The answers to these practice management questions will vary between different practices, and even between staff members in a single practice. There isn’t a single right or wrong answer—rather, in any case it is important simply to ask yourself, “What will we do if this works, and can we make it even better?”

Regardless of your plan of action, however, be wary of using industry benchmarks as your goals. This will help you avoid any potential issues with using varying definitions. Continuing with the same example, one doctor might report that 10% of their patients purchase annual supplies, while a second doctor reports 90% of their patients do so. What is not recorded, however, is the fact that the first doctor has a large base of specialty scleral patients and the second has a significant population of millennials who buy their lenses directly from the practice’s website. Additionally, keep in mind that benchmarking typically demonstrates averages and reports of “what is,” not what could be—as such, they can be limiting.   


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