Low vision programs: exploring the options

June 15, 2005

Ophthalmologists may feel that offering low vision care would be too time-consuming and not profitable.

Low vision devices help open a whole new world to patients with this condition. However, dispensing ophthalmologists may be reluctant to include low vision devices as part of their professional practice for a variety of reasons. Physicians may be uncertain about how to provide low vision care to their patients, or they may be concerned about the amount of time, money, and inventory that would be necessary to provide quality care.

What dispensing ophthalmologists may not be aware of, however, is they do not have to go it alone. Many manufacturers of low vision devices-such as closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and electronic magnifiers-sell their products to consumers directly or through dealer or referral networks. Also, manufacturers of low vision devices often carry incentive and prescriber programs that include ophthalmologists in the sale of low vision devices.

Here is how it works. An ophthalmologist recommends low vision devices to a patient who may benefit from them and refers the patient to a dealer or representative in the area who sells low vision devices. The dealer representative then takes the time to show the products to the patient. If a sale is made, the ophthalmologist is notified and receives a commission, which ranges from $100 to $500, depending upon the program and manufacturer.

In addition, by participating in these programs, ophthalmologists can remain aware of what their patients purchase, receive a commission, and save the time of training and setting up the product for the patient. There is also no need for ophthalmologists to maintain an inventory of CCTVs and electronic magnifiers in their offices, Indence said.

"It's a matter of creating a relationship with the dealer networks in your area. Each manufacturer has a different dealer network in a given area," he said.

Usually, the onus is on ophthalmologists to make a connection with the manufacturers, because dealer representatives do not frequent their offices, simply for lack of interest on the ophthalmologists' part.

"When looked at properly, these dealers are almost an extension of the doctor's office, if they want to make it that way, with almost no effort," Indence said.

The number one desire of patients with a need for low vision devices is to be able to read again. CCTVs and variable magnification devices, for example, offer many choices in both magnification and contrast.

"With these products, you have a variety of options and a lot of flexibility. It's the largest-growing product segment in low vision, and it has been for a couple of years," Indence said. "Unfortunately, about 80% to 90% of the business is being done directly from the manufacturers to the consumers, simply because the doctors feel that low vision patients are just too costly to their practices.

"Ophthalmologists need to view these dealer networks not as competition, but as a resource, because that's what they are," Indence concluded.

According to Hal Reisiger, president of Enhanced Vision, Huntington Beach, CA, a lot of "push-and-pull" marketing occurs.

"We generate tens of thousands of inquiries from potential low vision patients," Reisiger said. "We have a database of all eye-care professionals that we are involved with and who are involved with low vision care. We then generate referrals to eye-care professionals whenever we can. We try to combine our eye-care professional partners, our distributors, and ourselves to make sure that potential patients will get the best service."

Enhanced Vision is a private company that offers products for near and distant viewing, as well as everything in-between. The company also offers a complete line of stationary and portable products for low vision.

Dispensing ophthalmologists are generally not staffed to provide service in the home, noted Reisiger.