When we take a step back and think about what happens in our offices—in our exam rooms—we realize what a huge impact we have, dare I say “control,” on the growth of our contact lens practice. Yet so many elements of our everyday operations challenge that control and cause us to forget or push to the side the techniques we know to grow our contact lens business.
There are days when the simplicity of the formula astounds me. I refract the patient, push the phoropter to the side, and start with a simple phrase, “Here are your options…”
I always begin by stressing the importance of glasses, but next comes the idea that contact lenses can add value, flexibility, and convenience. Very quickly, one patient after another arrives without requesting or expecting contact lenses but leaves feeling youthful and hopeful from his newfound freedom.
So, why isn’t this happening day after day? Schedule, flow, timing, ocular disease, and lack of support can all chisel away our simple plan for success and growth. How do we rise above these obstacles?
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The importance of staff support
Overcoming most of the challenges requires staff support. And there are several ways to gain that support. Start by setting expectations, and remind them of the value that contact lenses bring to patients and the practice. For every patient, my expectation is that every staff member brings up a product, treatment, or service that would benefit that patient specifically. After all, I want every patient asking for something by the time she gets into my exam room. This forces the staff to be more familiar with our products and also to connect with that patient about her lifestyle.
Another way this helps is in accountability. As a doctor midway through an exam with three more waiting, what is the likelihood that I will suggest contact lenses to the patient in my chair? Hmmm, but rarely would we suppress that interest if a patient brings it up, regardless of how busy we may be. Rewarding staff with spiffs can generate the initial motivation, but it needs to become the norm in how they interact with the patient.
Repeatability and longevity are achieved by conducting staff meetings and end-of-the-day opportunity recaps. These don’t have to be formal; sometimes, I simply sit down at the front desk and casually mention interactions I noticed throughout the day. This process can be further dissected to develop major transformation within the office via scripting and flow control, but that’s a subject for another time.
Disrupting the flow
The biggest challenge to an unexpected fit is its potential to disrupt the flow. We weren’t planning for it, so how do we squeeze it in? You need a system in place to handle the adjustment in flow or the good news of a contact lens fit will no longer be good news, and future staff support will be lost.
For a new fit, the dilation can be delayed until the follow-up visit, allowing time today for the contact lens fit as well as application and removal training. Everyone in the office is cross-trained so that any available hands can step in to instruct the new contact lens patient. However, if no one is available, we buy time by having the patient watch a training video. Another back-up plan is to have your key technician trained and confident in applying and removing contact lenses on patients, performing conservative over-refractions, and checking the fit at the slit lamp. Personally, I choose to do these things myself because our business model is centered on a unique patient experience, and patients expect more time with the doctor than the technician. But having a back-up plan is priceless!
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Have patient education packets packed and ready, as well as specific annual supply pricing, so that everyone is prepared to expedite the process. You do not want to be the Lone Ranger in this mission, and limiting delays will ensure better staff buy-in. Staff support and excitement around building the contact lens business is key.
Another tool that helps improve efficiency and commitment is a hand scanner that can be used to keep track of missing trials as they are pulled. This way, ordering takes a matter of seconds, and your inventory is constantly stocked, which relieves stress for everyone.
Something else that derails our simple plan for generating contact lens interest and growth is when we get distracted by or disqualify a patient due to mild ocular disease. In the case of ocular surface disease, we are tempted to keep contact lenses a secret because we picture questionable outcomes and extra chair time. For these patients, I still talk about the option of contact lenses and, if interested, I implement a plan to prepare the surface for future contact lens wear. The biggest challenge then becomes remembering their initial interest, so it’s important to add a reminder to the section of your EHR where it is readily visible at every visit. Often within six weeks these patients are ready for at least part-time wear of daily disposable lenses.
Another way to grow the contact lens practice is to improve contact lens retention. We lose contact lens patients in two main ways: through contact lens dropout and loss of patient loyalty. For that reason, I spend extra time looking at the ocular surface, lid structure, and meibomian gland function. If there is any compromise, I implement treatment regardless of symptoms
, in order to prevent future drop out.
Of course, when there are signs without symptoms, extra patient education is required to motivate reliable compliance. But this extra effort can be pivotal in reducing dropouts, as it may be what sustains them through challenges such as winter dryness, spring allergies, or extended computer projects. Of course, some dryness may actually be induced by the contact lenses themselves. At bare minimum, I recommend daily disposables, peroxide cleaners for reusable lenses, and potentially Restasis (cyclosporine, Allergan) to maintain consistent vision and comfort.
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As for the loyalty element, sincere and considerate follow-up makes all the difference in the world. We send every patient who buys glasses or contact lenses a handwritten thank-you note signed by every staff member. Pre-appoint your contact lens patients, but also put reminders in your scheduling system to call them mid-year. Foster a deeper connection and promote loyalty and awareness by ensuring these patients are linked into your social media outlets to receive contact lens tips and office news throughout the year.
In the end, sometimes our biggest obstacles are ourselves. So many times, all it takes is pushing the phoropter to the side and saying, “Here are your options...” But it has to become a habit we routinely do for every patient. When we save the suggestion for the young myopes or the days when business is slow, we are missing out on a great opportunity to exceed patient expectations, growing both our practices and our reputations.