Photo finish

March 21, 2013

Having trouble selling photochromic lenses? These optometric practices have some tips.

By Brian P. Dunleavy

Michael Lange, OD, has a unique take on photochromic eyeglass lenses.

“I believe that, for all patients who wear eyeglasses, their so-called clear or primary pair should have photochromic lenses,” said Dr. Lange, owner of a 10-location optometric practice in central Florida. “A lot of times, when people are out in the sun, their eyes are at least somewhat compromised when it comes to UV rays. They don’t have their sunglasses with them all the time. Photochromics don’t replace sunglasses, but they at least provide a level of protection from UV light that is better for the eyes than no protection at all. For patients who are going back and forth, indoors and out all day, photochromics are the perfect lens.”

With this philosophy, Dr. Lange sells a substantial number of photochromic lenses-in some of his practice locations, as many as 65% of his eyeglass-wearing patients wear them. Of course, not all optometrists are selling photochromic lenses at such a high rate. Industry-wide, photochromics account for roughly 25% of all spectacle lenses sold.

So are optometrists missing an opportunity to sell a premium product to a wider patient base?

Display’s the thing

Susan Blaine thinks so. Blaine, the optical manager of a six-location eyecare practice in Wisconsin with ophthalmologists and optometrists on staff, is a big advocate for photochromic lenses as well as specialty lenses with photochromic properties.

“As with any other eyeglass lens product, you have to tune into what the patient needs,” she said. “You have to ask patients how they spend their time. What do they do during the day? If they’re going in and out of stores shopping all day, then maybe a [photochromic] lens will work for them. If they are out on a lake in a boat, probably not.”

According to Blaine, the practice she works for has devoted a significant amount of resources on point-of-purchase displays for spectacle lenses in their opticals, installing a putting green in one location, for example. Dr. Lange has installed flat-screen televisions in each of his opticals, which include promotional spots on various lens products, demonstrations of lens technologies, and information on promotional offers available to patients. He has also developed his own brochures about premium lens products, including photochromics, that explain the technology in ways patients can easily understand.

“[Photochromics] are one of the premium products we promote,” he noted. “I start talking about them in the exam room, so by the time patients are in the optical, they already have a seed planted.”

Rachael Click, OD, who practices in Mount Pleasant, SC, said her practice merely leverages Transitions’ position as the “Kleenex” of the eyecare industry. “Because of its consumer advertising, Transitions is to photochromics as Kleenex is to facial tissue,” she explained. “But, for our practice, it’s more than that. We really believe in the product. We all wear the lenses ourselves, and we can all speak from experience about the benefits for patients. We also really emphasize the importance of UV protection.”

To that end, the practice Web site includes the Transitions EyeGlass Guide, a lifestyle questionnaire designed to help patients select the right eyewear for their needs. Because of initiatives such as these, Dr. Click’s practice was honored as the 2011 Transitions Eyecare Practice of the Year for its efforts to educate patients on the importance of UV protection for healthy sight.

‘Changing lenses’ are changing

It should be noted, though, that Blaine doesn’t just sell traditional photochromics that change from clear indoors to dark outdoors when exposed to UV light-to borrow some of the language used by Transitions, the leading manufacturer of plastic photochromic lenses in the U.S. She also is a big proponent of Transitions’ relatively new performance sunwear products, lenses that use photochromic technology to go from “dark to darker depending on the sun.”

Available Rx-ready styles include:

  • Autumn Gold lens from X-Cel Optical, which is designed for hunting and shooting and changes from a yellow to amber shade

  • Bell Transitions shield for motorcycle helmets, which changes from clear to gray

  • Definity Fairway lens, available from Essilor, which is designed for golfers and changes from amber to dark brown

  • Transitions Drivewear, equipped with a polarized filter from Younger Optics, which is designed for driving and changes from green/yellow to copper to dark reddish-brown in response to light

  • Neox Transitions, available through the wholesale labs Walman and Soderberg, which is designed for golfers and changes from G22 green to a darker green

  • Oakley Transitions adaptive sunlens for runners, cyclists, and golfers, which is available in a variety of colors

  • XperioTransitions adaptive polarized sunlens for runners/hikers and water-sports enthusiasts, which is available from Essilor in ash gray/dark gray or caramel/dark brown

New from Transitions is its Vantage lens. Though positioned as an everyday lens-as opposed to a sunlens-the Vantage features variable polarization. Don’t forget about Transitions XTRActive lenses, designed for more activation for added protection both outdoors and indoors. XTRActive is Transitions’ darkest lens outdoors, even in the hottest temperatures. It also blocks 100% of UVA and UVB rays and, perhaps most significantly, activates behind the windshield of a car.

Dr. Lange said he has used his own version of the Transitions performance lens concept in his practice for years. “For an athlete, we might dip the Transitions lens in a yellow tint so that it is yellow when clear for improved contrast,” he said. “Or we might add a gray tint for increased blue light blocking for patients who have had cataract surgery. There are lots of potential uses for these products, if you’re creative.”

Is the price right?

Ultimately, Dr. Lange said, the biggest obstacle to fitting more patients in photochromic spectacle lenses is their price tag, given that they can cost as much as $100 more than clear lenses. Dr. Lange acknowledges that photochromics have stereotypically been labeled a lens for “older patients.” However, he added, “That’s just because patients, at least in our area, can’t afford them.” In his practice, Dr. Lange has done what he can to keep prices for all premium products at affordable levels by offering promotions and package deals, finding ways to cut his lens supply and processing costs, and passing the savings on to his patients.

“At the same time,” he continued, “I try to get patients out of the price mindset. Can you really put a price tag on eye health? I believe [photochromics] are a better lens option for patients’ eye health. It’s up to me, as the optometrist, to get them to see that. It’s not selling, it’s prescribing.”ODT

‘We really believe in the product. We all wear the lenses ourselves and we can all speak from experience about the benefits for patients.’

Rachael Click, OD

‘It’s not selling, it’s prescribing.’

Michael Lange, OD