Diagnostic Instrumentation

Macular Degeneration Testing: Alert Patients to Value of Nutraceuticals

By Yoongie Min, OD

New instrumentation to measure macular pigment thickness provides a measurable way to monitor the risk of macular degeneration over time–and it provides substantiation for the benefits of nutraceuticals.

ROB BOTTOM LINE:

Macular Degeneration

Diagnostic Instrumentation

Instrument
QuantifEye, an instrument for measuring macular pigment density that comes with starter kit of supplements to be replenished as needed: $6,000

Number of scans on instrument per month
80 to 110

Fee per Scan
$15

90 patientsx $15= $1,350

Cost per bottle of supplement
$28 to $30

Number of patients who have scan and opt to purchase supplements
50-60 percent

45 patientsx $30 bottle supplements= $1,350

Revenues

$1,350 (from the scans)

+ $1,350 (from purchase of supplements)

$2,700

$8,100 (three months)

ROI

Instrumentation paid for itself in first three months.

For about five years we have been selling nutraceutical supplements such as Omega 3 supplements for dry eye and macular health formulas that contain lutein and zeaxanthin. The challenge was convincing patients to give these supplements a try. We would discuss the nutraceuticals to patients afflicted with dry eye or with a family history of macular degeneration. But patients often were still unconvinced about the benefits of supplements. That is why six months ago we invested in QuantifEye, an instrument for measuring macular pigment thickness. Patients are given a numerical score to tie to their macular health, providing a scientific basis for recommending that they try macular health nutraceuticals.

It cost us less than $6,000 to invest in the equipment, which comes with a starter kit of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements to sell. The only ongoing payment is for the supplements, which you replenish as often as necessary. The equipment paid for itself within the first three months. We do between 80 and 110 scans on the instrument per month, with 50 to 60 percent of those who get the scan opting to purchase nutraceuticals, which we charge between $28 and $30 per bottle. We charge $15 per scan.

Opportunity to Bolster Medical Eyecare

If one of your practice goals is expanding the medical eyecare you provide, including monitoring diseases like macular degeneration, this equipment is a good investment. On the other hand, if your practice places more of an emphasis on the strength of your optical shop, then this is not necessarily the investment for you. This also is a good investment for practices with a strong Baby Boomer demographic, as macular degeneration is one of the many eye diseases related to the aging process. If the equipment and supplements suit your practice goals, I recommend trying it out for yourself by getting a demonstration of it at a show like Vision Expo or SECO. You can see for yourself what the experience of taking the test and hearing the results will be like for your patients.

Educate Patients About Need to Monitor

When patients check in for their appointment at our practice, they are handed a laminated sheet explaining the QuantifEye technology and why we encourage people to have the four- to six-minute test as part of the pre-testing process, including risk factors for macular degeneration such as family history, sun exposure, smoking and light-colored eyes. If the patient opts for the test, which we explain is a $15 out-of-pocket expense, we discuss the score they receive during their examination. The instrument, which is the size of an auto-refractor or air-puff tonometer with a laptop computer attached, measures the thickness of the macular pigment density on a scale of 0 to 1, with scores of .45 and higher considered good. Patients who score lower than .45 receive a brief primer from me about the nutraceuticals we have available that may help prevent macular degeneration. Most patients score lower than .45, so there is ample opportunity to discuss the benefits of the nutraceuticals. In addition to information about the nutraceuticals, we teach patients about the foods they can eat more of, such as spinach and kale, that aid macular health.

Value of Returning Patients
A key advantage of macular degeneration diagnostic instrumentation is that it enables doctors to monitor patients over time.

Returning patients with chronic diseases are the lifeblood of optometric practices. Be sure to plan a program of follow-up visits for patients at risk for or diagnosed with diseases like macular degeneration. –ROB Editors

Have Patients Back for Six-Month Follow-Up

The score patients receive also can become the basis for follow-up office visits. We plan to ask patients with scores lower than .45 to return every six months to have their macular pigment retested. We also will discuss during that follow-up visit how the nutraceuticals are working out for them, including whether they have experienced any side effects and whether they are interested in continuing with the regimen. We charge a $15 fee for each retest also.

In this era of managed care in which our exam reimbursements are kept low, nutraceuticals represent another supporting revenue stream. More importantly, offering a test to empirically measure macular health alerts patients to the importance of monitoring and safeguarding their eye health.

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Yoongie Min, OD, is the owner of Northwest Vision Center, with locations in ColumbusandChillicothe, Ohio. To contact him: yminod@rrohio.com.

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