In search of greater profitability with contact lenses

May 15, 2006

Invite patients to try contact lenses at no obligation.

Is it possible to move from the mindset of offering patients of record the convenience of obtaining contact lenses by going down the hall and waiting for a technician in a small, seldom-used room to the mindset of offering a specialized service for contact lenses that can be very profitable?

You bet it is.

In fact, a patient who sees your practice handle a nonsurgical request for contact lenses in an efficient, courteous, and helpful manner will be more likely to choose your practice for custom laser vision correction rather than the practice down the street that outspends you on infomercials.

Here's one simple reason to beef up your contact lens service. Businesses that have low service quality average only a 1% return on sales and lose market share at the rate of 2% per year.

However, businesses with high service quality average a 12% return on sales, gain market share at the rate of 6% per year, and charge significantly higher prices.

In today's competitive environment, offering contact lenses can't be just a "side service" offered to patients.

Every time a patient comes in contact with your practice, he or she will come away feeling better or worse about doing business with you. The way you manage these moments of truth is what ultimately determines how successful your practice will be.

Do you position your practice in the marketplace as full-service? Can you practice full-service eye care and not fit contact lenses?

As with laser vision correction patients, contact lens patients must be cultivated. Most patients needing vision correction don't walk in the door and say, "I think I need contacts." It's the job of the staff optometrist and the technicians to stimulate the patient's interest. You'll be surprised at how many patients take you up on an offer to try contacts.

Promote an information and education program to put the option of contact lenses in front of every patient. Some ways of doing this are:

Have a sign in the optometric reception area that lists all the services your office provides, emphasizing the various kinds of contact lenses offered.

To stimulate interest in contact lenses, ask specific questions about them during pretesting. Technicians might ask the following:

Invite patients to try contact lenses at no obligation.

Convert contact lens-wearing baby boomers to bifocal contacts.

Talk about special occasion contact lenses (for weekend wear or for sports).

Pharmaceutical research and consulting firms that provide research report an estimated 125 million patient visits where contacts were dispensed worldwide in 2005 (38 million in the United States). Contact lens manufacturers reported $1.5 billion in sales and, depending on sources, estimate that the market is growing anywhere from 2% to 12% annually.

In 84% of the patient visits where contact lenses were dispensed, they were soft contacts. What this means to an ophthalmology practice is that most contact lens fits can be delegated to a staff person who is properly trained and has appropriate credentials.

Moreover, this potentially profitable side-business introduces your practice to 38 million people who have self-qualified themselves for laser vision correction.

Real world challenges

Consider the following facts and figures when you contemplate adding a contact lens service to your practice.