By Scott Huffer, OD, FAAO
July 5, 2017
Nutraceuticals send a wellness message to patients, and may provide benefits in preventing eye diseases like macular degeneration. Here is how my five-OD practice in Nashua, N.H., has profitably incorporated nutraceuticals.
Our office sells EZ Tears omega three supplements and AREDS Plus formulation vitamins, both offered from ZeaVision. Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to dramatically improve dry eye and the formulation of AREDS, plus has been shown to slow progression of moderate macular degeneration. We have had many patients taking vitamins that do not necessarily have the same quality, or content, of the supplements we prefer. Offering the supplements in our office makes it convenient for the patient, and ensures they get exactly what we advise.
At least one patient a day asks me if they should be taking supplements for their eyes. It is important to look over the research and determine what you think is best for your patients. Fish oil is an effective initial treatment for dry eye. A happily treated dry eye patient will tell many friends to visit your practice. A patient switched to a better macular supplement, who notices improved vision, also will send in other patients.
Choose Nutraceutical Provider
We chose our nutraceutical vendor because it offers a good family of products at a competitive price. Another vendor we considered makes wonderful omega 3 supplements, but its price is greater, and they do not offer any macular health supplements. Yet another vendor we considered offers a wonderful macular supplement, but again at increased cost, and it does not offer an omega 3 supplement for our dry eye patients.
Invest in Inventory
We generally have about $2,000 in inventory of vitamins. In the month of May 2017 we sold $2,800 worth of vitamins. The cost to us is 60 percent of sales price. So, $33,600 gross per year X 60 percent is $13,360 of net revenue per year.
Create One-Stop Shopping
Rather than sending your patients on a scavenger hunt for the products you have prescribed, you can offer them the chance to buy it all before leaving your office. This offers convenience.
Most of the time, when a patient goes out of the office to purchase fish oil, they will purchase a lesser quality fish oil, as it is not as expensive. The triglyceride formula fish oil is better absorbed and more effective in treating dry eye. It is also less frequently later burped and tasted, so patients continue taking it. Ultimately, ensuring patients have the superior product better controls their treatment and leads to better outcomes.
Many of the lesser-quality macular health supplements do not carry enough Leutein or Zeaxanthin, and sometimes have too much of other ingredients. I have had several patients with macular degeneration report improved vision since switching to our supplements.
The supplements are on shelves behind our front desk, so patients can get them upon check-out.
Create Prescribing Protocol
Dry eye patients are told to take two capsules of fish oil per day. One with the first bite of breakfast and one with the first bite of dinner because taking it with a meal minimizes the likelihood of tasting it later. I tell them that we sell a good one that is a triglyceride (medical grade) form, but if they prefer to use their pharmacy, we give them a recommended brand. I tell them many fish oils are preserved with alcohols, and this process destroys the nature of the oils.
I send a lot of people to a local independent pharmacy across the street from our office because they have a person who can guide them through different omega 3 supplement options, such as I.E. Flax Seed for the vegetarians and chewables, or oils, for those who cannot take large pills. Macular degeneration patients get a handout listing the nutrients that are important to limit progression and shows the foods they are found in. I tell them it is hard to find one pill containing all of them, but we have one in the office.
Assess Whether to Add New Nutraceuticals
We are not currently looking to add any supplements. Some newer research is suggesting macular health supplements (carotinoids) may improve visual function in those without macular degeneration, and may also promote brain health. As this research evolves, we may start recommending these treatments to more patients.