By Stephen Cohen, OD
Annual CL sales = profits and efficiency. To capture this opportunity, put a system in place—and get your whole staff on board with it.
Selling more annual supplies of contact lenses isn’t something that just happens if you’re lucky; it requires a systematic strategy. The effort to encourage patients to purchase annual supplies of their lenses from you rather than an online retailer can pay off in enhanced revenues and patients who are more satisfied with their purchase and experience in your office. Here is why and how my practice lets patients know they can (and should) order their contacts directly from us.
Why is It Worth Encouraging Patients to Purchase Annual Supplies?
I think many of us miss seeing the value that contact lenses bring to our practices, and that annual dispenses bring to our contact lens business. We often see the business end of our contact lens practices as only the minimal profit derived from a box of disposable contact lenses. That often leads to the optometric battle cry of “there’s no profit in contact lenses.” To me, it is a mistake to only look at the direct value to our practices. Here are a few examples of what might be called “hidden” values:
1). Annual dispenses of contact lenses provide convenience for our patients. Provide convenience or risk losing the patient.
2). Having a year supply of contacts takes the patient out of the contact lens marketplace.
3). A year supply increases compliance with replacement schedules by decreasing the likelihood that the lenses will be looked at as commodities, particularly when the supply is running low. This not only affects our bottom line. As patients more closely adhere to replacement schedules, it also reduces the risk of contact lens complications.
4.) On average, a contact lens patient returns for an exam twice as frequently as a glasses patient. Therefore, in calculating the profits associated with contact lens use, we need to include the fees for an additional eye exam and supply of contact lenses.
5.) An annual dispense saves staff time, as the supply is dispensed from inventory, or ordered and shipped/dispensed to the patient once, rather than up to four times a year (each time requiring multiple phone calls and ordering/dispensing time).
6.) An annual dispense which assists in adherence to a replacement schedule, supports recall efforts, since the patient will run low on contacts around the time they are due for their next exam. The impact of this can be substantial. As an illustration, early in my career I was in a group practice before going out on my own. A business analysis (20 years ago) showed us that for every month we could improve our average recall rate (say from every 30 months to every 29 months), represented about $20,000 in additional revenue to the practice, just from getting our existing patients to come back more frequently. What would that represent in today’s numbers?
Begin the Conversation with Patients
There is a simple distinction in patient perception about where the conversation begins about annual dispenses of contact lenses or other services in our offices: when a doctor brings an issue up it is perceived by the patient as “prescribing.” When a staff member brings the same issue up it is perceived as “selling.” The doctor does not need to discuss specific costs or details, but rather needs to bring up the annual supply recommendation. This can be addressed any number of ways. One example could be the doctor saying: “I’m prescribing a year supply of contact lenses, which will provide you with all the lenses you need between now and next year’s exam.” This approach helps to reinforce our recall messages.
We also never discuss a two-box purchase. We introduce the benefits of the annual dispense, and if that doesn’t work for the patient, we fall back to a six-month supply. It is a mistake to present the price of one box and then ask the patient how many boxes they want to purchase. Patients need an annual supply of contact lenses. Our job is to make that as affordable as possible for them while presenting the value associated with an annual supply.
Make it Financially Worthwhile for Patient
One of the best financial tools we have are the rebates that manufacturers offer with annual dispenses. This greatly reduces the “per box” cost to the patient. Additionally, we offer a lower price for an annual dispense than for a per box lens purchase. In my practice, we also offer a 25 percent discount on non-Rx sunglasses to our patients who purchase a year supply of contact lenses.
To educate patients about this, we have forms we designed with the help of ABB OPTICAL GROUP called our Contact Lens Savings Plan worksheet We can fill these out to show the patient the net per box price after factoring in any insurance coverage, rebates, discounts (including mentioning the free shipping). Once done, the bottom line number winds up being far more competitive than it might initially appear. Even when patients ask about the per box cost, we can quote the cost based upon the various savings, informing them that “with our Contact Lens Savings Plan, the price for a box of lenses can be as little as…”
Market Annual Supplies in Office
While we do not display much point of purchase (POP) material in our office, every discussion involves annual dispenses. Doctors who similarly do not use POP can consider having a placard displayed that says “ask us about our contact lens savings plan,” or something similar that invites additional conversations. We have done e-blasts to our patient base about contact lenses and annual dispenses, and information about it is posted on our web site
Assure Patients You’ll Take Back Unopened Boxes
We assure every patient that in the unlikely event that their contact lens prescription changes within the year, any unopened/unmarked boxes will be exchanged for boxes of contacts with their new prescription. We don’t wait for the patient to ask about this. We tell them up front. In doing so, we’ve discovered that a lot of the patient resistance is not the cost of the lenses, but rather concern about having a product that can no longer be used.
If a contact lens patient ultimately decides that they do not want to continue wearing contact lenses, they are offered a refund or a credit. The key is to keep the patient loyal to our practice, so whether or not they stay as a contact lens patient does not adversely impact their decision to stay as a patient in our practice.
Give Guidance to Parents Buying Annual Supplies for Children
We absolutely recommend an annual dispense for children and teen contact lens wearers for the reasons stated previously. We give parents the same assurance about exchanges and credits. Particularly for younger children, we recommend that parents store a portion of the contact lens supply. This accomplishes two things: less loss of lenses and less likelihood that a child will tell their parents that they are out of contacts entirely when it is least convenient for them to order additional lenses. If the parent has control of at least some of the supply, they will know when the supply is running low, which means also knowing when it’s time to set up the next exam (for an annual supply patient) or to order more lenses (for a six-month supply patient).
One of my favorite sayings is “why does poor planning on your part constitute a crisis on my part?” In this case, when we are booked out several weeks, we’re not faced as frequently with an urgent request to get a young patient in since they are out of contact lenses and failed to inform their parents in a timely manner.
Have Contact Lens Reps Educate Staff
Our vendors are wonderful resources. We view them as practice partners. They not only have good products to offer, they can assist in managing our supply of diagnostic lenses and inventory supply. In a busy practice, we can’t go out and see what our colleagues may be doing. Conversely, our reps visit many practices every day. When we meet, we ask what good ideas they’ve come across in other practices.
Our reps also schedule regular lunch meetings for our office, and spend time with our contact lens tech and front office staff reviewing new programs that might be beneficial to our patients and practice–including strategies for selling more annual supplies.
Sell More CL Supplies: Top Tips
Have all conversations in the office involve the benefits of an annual dispense (cost savings, convenience, higher contact lens success through replacement schedule compliance, discounts on other products, reminder of time to schedule next annual exam). This conversation needs to occur in the exam room, as well as in the optical dispensary or contact lens room.
Quote prices based upon annual dispensing and have a vehicle to visually and verbally show patients the savings available with an annual dispense. For instance, ABB OPTICAL GROUP offers a Contact Lens Savings Plan worksheet you can fill out for patients to show the savings available to them with an annual supply.
Get the staff “buy in” for the annual dispense philosophy, as they can either make or sabotage the program. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. If the person in charge is positive and proactive, others, including patients, will follow.
Inventory your most frequently prescribed contact lenses. Patients want convenience, and being able to leave the office with their annual supply has value to them.
Consistently present the best option for patients and don’t prejudge a patient’s ability to afford that option. Our job is to diagnose, prescribe and offer the best options to our patients. Our job is not to diagnose our patient’s checkbooks.
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Stephen Cohen, OD, is the owner of Doctor My Eyes in Scottsdale, Ariz. To contact him: email@example.com. Dr. Cohen also is a paid consultant for VISTAKON Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., and has served as a consultant to Alcon.