How to establish a specialty contact lens practice


During the Global Contact Lens Forum at Vision Expo West, Jeffrey Sonsino, OD, FAAO, shared tips on how to establish a specialty contact lens practice.

Las Vegas-During the Global Contact Lens Forum at Vision Expo West, Jeffrey Sonsino, OD, FAAO, shared tips on how to establish a specialty contact lens practice.

Dr. Sonsino started his own specialty contact lens practice about nine months ago after leaving Vanderbilt University. About 75 percent of his patients are wearing specialty contact lenses. He built this practice from a zero patient base, only blocks away from Vanderbilt where no referrals were coming his way. 

The value of a contact lens patient

“Disruptors are here to stay,” said Dr. Sonsino, “and more are coming. Differentiate yourself, or your practice is going to die.

Before you jump in, know that complicated contact lens patients take a lot of time and require a lot of handholding.

Launching up a specialty practice requires education, set up, and marketing.


First, educate yourself on all contact lens modalities.

Second, know the literature. If you don’t, you don’t know the standard of care or what your colleagues are doing. If you’re not timely in your scholarly journal reading, a trick is to see what papers are cited in non–peer-reviewed publications, then read those papers.

Third, know important specialty contact lens studies such as Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLERK) or Cho and Walline’s studies on myopia control.

“If you're fitting these lenses and you don't know the studies, you're doing yourself and your patients a disservice,” said Dr. Sonsino.

Fourth, get a solid baseline of information and get plugged in. For a new grad, do a residency in cornea and contact lenses, work for a cornea specialist, or work for contact lens specialist. For an established practitioner, attend meetings, join the American Academy of Optometry to attend workshops and become a Diplomate, join the American Optometry Association Contact Lens and Cornea Section (AOA CLCS), and join the Scleral Lens Education Society

Set up

Setting up your office correctly is important in the success of your specialty contact lens practice.

Staff training is key. Everyone in the office needs to know what you’re doing with specialty lenses, and they need to know a bit about the lenses you’re working with so they will be able to answer patient questions. Staff also need to be aware if a patient is referred and by whom, how to conduct a thorough history, and how to apply and remove specialty contact lenses.

Schedule patients appropriately. These patients require more chair time, and you need to ensure that your practice flows smoothly whether you’re seeing specialty patients or your day-to-day schedule.

Create applicable patient forms. “All of my specialty contact lens patients sign an advance beneficiary form letting the insurance company know that I’m going to be doing things outside the patient’s coverage,” Dr. Sonsino said.

Ensure that you have the proper equipment, including a topographer, fitting sets, and an anterior segment OCT.


“If you don’t market yourself, no one will do it for you,” said Dr. Sonsino. “Promote the special things you’re doing and why patients should stay with you instead of going somewhere else.”

Set up a clean, polished website with professional head shots. “Don’t stand in front of the brick wall of your office building,” he said, “or take a selfie!”

Your site should be robust with information for patients and referring doctors. Highlight your services and other activities, such as recruitment for clinical studies. This shows you’re an expert, according to Dr. Sonsino.

Be sure to include crisp clinical images for illustration. If you can’t capture your own, the AOA CLCS is launching an anterior segment image catalog with image to use free of charge.

Send a letter to ODs and MDs in your area who are able to refer patients.

Another option for referrals is associating with a local corneal specialist.

“Education, set up and marketing are important,” said Dr. Sonsino. “You need to have the right people around you, and you need to talk the lingo.”

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