Contact lenses can differentiate your practice and enhance your patients’ lives. In this skill-building article, we explore ways to cultivate your contact lenses practice, expand your scope as a prescribing optometrist and improve patient service.
Exceeding your patients’ needs is paramount when it comes to differentiating your practice in a competitive world.
By drawing on your expertise and approaching eye care from your patients’ perspectives, you can deliver a service that does this and enhances their lives. In this context, contact lenses are a key clinical strength that many practices underutilise as part of their service offering.
WHAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK?
Only around 6 per cent of Australians who require vision correction wear contact lenses. This penetrance of contact lens wear is around half that of our neighbours in New Zealand, and also the UK; and a quarter that of countries such as Holland, Japan and the U.S.A.
Working together as a team to prepare responses to frequently asked questions will empower them to discuss contact lenses with patients
To assess the potential to convert typical non-contact lens wearing patients into wearers, Jones et al looked at the outcome of contact lens prescribing based on the approach of the optometrist. Patients were divided into two groups and two prescribing approaches were used; a ‘reactive’ approach, whereby patients were only prescribed contact lenses if they asked the optometrist about wearing them; and a ‘proactive’ approach, whereby optometrists actively encouraged patients in to try contact lenses by explaining the lifestyle benefits. Jones found that patients in the proactive group were six times more likely to pursue contact lenses than those in the reactive approach.
Similarly, Hanks did a comparison study that showed 20 per cent of spectacle wearing patients in a practice would become contact lens wearers when contact lenses were offered by their optometrist.
Hanks study also showed that the increased follow up required for a contact lens wearer, compared to a normal spectacle wearer, meant patients made more frequent purchases of other eye care products.
The studies provide compelling evidence of the patient loyalty that can come about as a result of contact lens wear.
WHAT CAN WE APPLY FROM THIS?
As Jones demonstrated, by taking a proactive approach to offering contact lenses, we have the potential to grow our practice in this area by six times.
This means listening closely to our patients to determine their vision and lifestyle aims and then tailoring a visual solution that when appropriate, includes both glasses and contact lenses as an additional vision correction.
HOW CAN YOU CHANGE WHAT YOU DO?
It’s understandable that patients don’t have the same level of awareness or education about contact lenses as we do as eye care professionals. Unless you talk to them about their potential to wear contact lenses, they won’t know whether they are good candidates. This is particularly so when dealing with complex prescriptions such as multifocal, astigmatism or high refractive errors. Our role is to provide them with personalised advice about how contact lenses can benefit their lifestyles.
Adopt a Positive Attitude
Some practitioners are reluctant to teach patients essential skills for contact lens insertion, removal and care, seeing the job as onerous. By taking a positive approach to caring for and maintaining their eye health, and providing appropriate education on contact lens wear, our patients will be compelled to entrust us as their eye care professionals – not just for their contact lenses, but for all their vision and ocular health needs into the future.
Believe in the Benefits for Practice, Professional and Patient
In panel discussions with peers, I frequently hear that focusing on contact lenses is financially unrewarding for a practice. As our profession grows and evolves to recognise specialised skills in contact lenses, I hope to see this myth debunked.
A contact lens focused practice is one that helps meet all the vision needs of patients – spectacles and contact lenses included. As Hanks showed, and any contact lens focused optometrist will agree, this area of practice can be financially and professionally rewarding; because it gives you more opportunities to interact with your patients, and earns the respect of patients at a deeper clinical and professional level.
TAKE A TEAM APPROACH
It is critical that your support team shares your approach to contact lens growth and is trained to communicate key information. For example, they need to be able to discuss the cost of wearing contact lenses in a compelling, easy to understand way. Explaining to patients that contact lenses will cost ‘about AU$2 a day’, even for the best options, then prompting them to ask the optometrist for more details and whether they are suitable candidates, is a highly effective way to generate interest and create contact lens opportunities.
Your practice team can also play an important role in promoting the ease and convenience of contact lens wear. By explaining that with a little practice, contact lenses are as easy to remove as taking an eyelash out of your eye, they will quickly gain the confidence to give it a try.
Many a time I’ve eavesdropped on a practice team member delivering pitch perfect answers to patient enquiries, which have had a massive impact by setting the right tone for future interactions. At other times, I’ve heard team members provide information that needs to be immediately set right by a more experienced team member. You can’t be everywhere at once and you do need to have trust in your team. Working together as a team to prepare responses to frequently asked questions will empower them to discuss contact lenses with patients and give you confidence in their ability to do so.
Your team’s advice should amplify your own. In doing so, it will enhance the patient experience, their NPS score, and optimise contact lens wearing outcomes.
One of my optometry mentors and contact lens focused colleagues is well known for his exceptional customer service and his dispensing team. He once shared the secret of how he cultivates a team approach to contact lens prescribing in practice. By regularly making time to talk to his team about patients he has seen, the strategies adopted and the outcomes, they all acknowledge that they feel ‘on the same page’ and motivated to provide a higher level of patient care.
I believe this is a great approach to building a team approach – both to general optometry and contact lens prescribing.
Providing training and mentoring to ensure your team understands ‘why’ contact lenses help patients, then following through with training and support to build them into contact lens advocates, is essential to maximise our contact lens opportunities. Teaching them how to support you by providing lessons on contact lens insertion, removal and care can also be useful in a busy practice, and it can empower your team to help patients in a more clinical and meaningful manner.
Finally, if you intend to lead your team, you need to invest in building your own clinical and communication skills. The success of contact lens wear is heavily influenced by comfort – contact lens dryness and discomfort often leads to patient drop out. This makes it critically important to prescribe the best contact lens products for the individual patient, without being influenced by the lure of better margins.
There is a wealth of resources available to develop both your communication and technical skills in contact lens prescribing. As inspiration, one of my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’.
Contact lens focused optometrists enjoy the professional rewards that come from continually expanding their scope of practice and revenue streams. Ultimately, the greatest reward is seeing the enormously positive impact that contact lenses bring to their patients’ lives.
I encourage you to cultivate your contact lens practice by taking a proactive approach to this life-changing technology.
Margaret Lam is an optometrist in theeyecarecompany practices in Sydney and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW. She also works as the Head of Optometry Services for George and Matilda Eyecare. Margaret practises full scope optometry, but with a passionate interest in contact lenses,retail aspects of optometry and successful patient communication and management. She has extensive experience in specialty contact lens fitting in corneal ectasia, keratoconus and orthokeratology and is a past recipient of the Neville Fulthorpe Award for Clinical Excellence. Margaret Lam was sponsored to write this article by Alcon. NP4 Number # :A21711733717