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ODs’ top 4 gripes about vision care plans: Part 4-Competing with me for retail sales and patients


Optometrists are increasingly feeling pressure on their practices as vision care plans (VCPs) move toward a model that not only cuts reimbursements but also competes with them for patients, goods, and services.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

In order to continue this dialogue and in an attempt to help bring some clarity to the landscape around vision plans, I have put together this 5-part blog series.

In Part 1, I outlined the 4 big topic areas where optometrists seem to have the most complaints with vison plans.

In Part 2, we covered Does it have to be this difficult?

In Part 3, we covered reimbursement.

Previously from Dr. Spear: The benefits of cleaning out your practice

For review, here are the four big gripes:

1.Does it have to be this difficult?


3.Competing with me for retail sales and patients

4.Misleading and Misinformation

In Part Four, let’s take a closer look at Gripe Number 3: Competing with me for retail sales.

Competing for sales

Optometrists are increasingly feeling pressure on their practices as vision care plans (VCPs) move toward a model that not only cuts reimbursements but also competes with them for patients, goods, and services.

Recent vertical integrations combined with increasing overt online presence and direct marketing to patients is a common complaint among ODs.

I posted on two optometry Facebook groups, ODs on Facebook and ODs on Practice Management and Insurance, asking for complaints about VCPs in preparation for a SECO lecture.

Respondents expressed frustration with VCPs reducing service fees while at the same time potentially diverting their profits from materials.

Related: ODs’ top 4 gripes about vision plans

Here are some comments I received:

• “Their newer ploy to drive patients to purchase their glasses or contact lenses online and use their benefit from the website the insurance owns.”

• “Two that I know of are actively emailing patients about using their benefits online as soon as the exam authorization is pulled. We have resorted to waiting to pull those until patients are in office.”

• “Promoting their own online contact lens sales when they are already giving me extremely low reimbursements.”

• “Vertical integration means they push patients to their physical entities vs. private practice doctors.”


Of all the big gripes with VCPs, this one strikes the deepest and elicits a raw emotion response from optometrists. While ODs have accepted a reduced fee for service for the exam, the movement of VCPs to also become suppliers of glasses and contact lenses is raising the level of concern.

Consider these four ways to better retain patients and materials sales

Four ways to retain patients

1. Do not manage to the minority

While the percentage and numbers may vary by your geographic location, the national numbers are what they are. According to The Vision Council, only about 18 percent of contact lens sales are online, and roughly 4 percent of glasses sales are online.

As I tell many of my clients, stop worrying about the Internet and the minority of patients who want “only what the insurance covers.” Instead, concentrate on your office and your processes.  

Related: ODs top 4 gripes about vision care plans: Part 2-Does it have to be this difficult?

2. Set patient expectations

You and your staff should have the mentality that everyone who comes to your office has a need and a problem to be solved. Concentrate on discovering the problem, which is often unstated and even unknown by the patient. 

Once you do the work of solving the problem, your mentality should be that the patient is going to buy the solution from you. You must have specific processes in place to help the patient reach this conclusion and to make the purchase easy.  

Use metrics to know how you are doing and to define the process. One key metric is capture rate. We define capture rate as the number of pairs of glasses that we sell per refraction. In other words, if we perform 100 refractions in a month and sell 75 pairs of glasses, then we have a capture rate of 75 percent. 

Look at your current capture rate and set a target for growth. This will force you to look for ways to improve the process and increase capture rate. We have had a few months in which our capture rate exceeded 100 percent due to second pair and sunglasses sales. Remember that patients with VCPs tend to have some materials benefit, and it is up to you and your staff to create a value proposition that allows them to buy from you.


3. Concentrate on the experience

What can you offer your patients that the online experience does not? Why should a patient buy from you? You must give patients a reason.

I know the Internet can be convenient, but I personally have not found it to be faster. Although shopping at home on Sunday night while watching TV with the kids is convenient, I do so with some trepidation. Am I getting the best deal? Am I getting the right thing? Is this the best site? What if it doesn’t fit or work?

By being customer focused with knowledgeable staff and providing a customer-centered experience, you can provide a reason for patients to buy from you. Maybe it is your involvement and giving back in the community, or maybe it is the free coffee you offer patients. No matter what it is for you and your team, it is up to you to give patients a reason. 

Related: ODs’ top 4 gripes about vision care plans: Part 3-Reimbursements

4. Provide an alternative

Some patients do just want to buy online. As I said before, don’t allow this to make you change your entire business. Concentrate on the majority who want to buy from brick and mortar.

If you just cannot let it go, then create an alternative for the online shopping experience by offering glasses and contact lens sales through your website or online portal.


Wrapping up

As with any business, we must always monitor our industry and make adjustments as needed. I have found that if we focus more on our team, patients, and processes than on the competitors, disruptors, and challenges, we will be successful.

Concentrate on the things you can control and do not worry about the things you cannot control.

The eyecare industry is a $40B a year business, and everyone wants a piece of that pie.

The good news is that as the primary eyecare provider, you are the gatekeeper. Focus on what you and yor practice can do better than anyone else, and the rest will take care of itself.

I look forward to your questions and comments. Email me at chspear@gmail.com.

Read more from Dr. Spear here

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