Doctor Patient Relations

Smart Answers to Your Patients’ Questions about Online Optical Sales

By Ally Stoeger, OD

It is to your practice’s benefit to establish aprotocol for answering patient questions about why to buy from you instead of an online retailer.

Previously, the question that made eye care professionals cringe was “how much are contact lenses” or “can I have a copy of my contact lens prescription?”These days, the dread-inducing question is “Can you write down my PD measurement?”

Responses such as “We never give out that information,” come across as unfriendly, and may violate patients’ legal rights in some states. What’s worse, you might alienate a patient’s entire family–a family that may elect to occasionally order online but most often would spend their eyeglasses money with you. This may include a mother who wants to try online ordering for inexpensive glasses for a child heading off to summer camp, or it may be someone who wants a “throw-away” pair of eyeglasses to take to the beach or leave in the car.

Know What Online Shoppers Hear
Many online optical sites inform shoppers that eye professionals should give PD measurements and subsequent frame adjustments for free or minimal charge. Online retailers are taking advantage of the fact that eyecare professionals have traditionally bundled products and services.For the occasional patient who was visiting a new area and needed a glasses adjustment, it was customary to provide complimentaryservices. But an occasional favor is a completely different situation than large numbers of people being primed by online retailers to use your optical as a showroom and/or for free or minimally charged adjustment services.

There are two types of patients who are choosing online options.The first is the patient who will not even step into your your dispensary because they have already made a decision to buy online.Price, and the fact that they order most everything online, is their motivating factor.The second type of patient takes a great deal of time trying on frames and then wants a copy of frame information without placing an order.Unfortunately, patients feel entitled to do this because consumer advocates endorse it. And they already do it when shopping for appliances, computers, sports equipment, furniture and other items.

The first type of patient doesn’t take up staff time but also doesn’t even give your staff a chance to see if they can be “tempted.”The second one may waste valuable staff time, but may be tempted into a purchase if they develop arapport with your staff and see a frame they really like.And if they have a poor experience online, they may return to a practice that was helpful.

Short-Term Strategy
Short-term strategies include educating patients that online sites only provide the product–and that your office provides both products and vital services for those products.

Just as doctors should inform patients as to what they are looking for when they perform medical tests, optical dispensers should inform patients of the steps they are taking when they work with patients. These services can also be outlined in a handout and include:

  • Horizontal and Vertical Pupil Measurements (vertical measurements are important for multifocals, and for single vision lenses as frame sizes get larger).
  • Stress the importance of taking measurements with a frame that is pre-adjusted for pantoscopic tilt and nosepad height.
  • The fact that even a 2 mm difference in frame size can result in a less desirable appearance or a less comfortable frame.
  • The importance of proper frame adjustment–not just for comfort but also for optimal vision.
  • The problems associated with adjusting lower quality frames.
  • The differences in lens types in terms of scratching and optical performance.The higher quality lens types perform best when measured with high levels of precision.
  • The importance of problem solving if eyewear does not perform well.
  • The importance of occasional eyewear adjustments to maintain proper vision and comfort.
  • The importance of a warranty covers the product AND services.

Another short-term strategy that can help reduce online purchasing is making sure patients understand vision plan benefits that they are entitled to. Providing appealing savings for additional pairs will result in patients having less incentive to go elsewhere after they use their vision plan for their first pair.

Having your own online optical site may be an effective strategy. But it won’t protect you if the patient finds what they perceive as the same frames or lenses online for a lot less. Another caution is that when there is an online option, there is a temptation for staff members to tell patients “or you can just go to our web site” a little too quickly.A patient who might have purchased in your dispensary is instead sent to the internet…and may end up elsewhere.

Quality Control Rules
Long-term strategy should include making sure you and your staff pay rigorous attention to every facet of quality control.Experienced optometrists and opticians know that the secret to successful practice is quality control.Read online reviews for optometry practices and you will find that most of the negative reviews are related to quality control.

Online sites brag about their quality control standards and how many steps they take to make sure the jobs are perfect. Some even imply they have higher standards than brickand mortar offices.But professionals know that complete quality control is not possible when a patient is not physically present.

Don’t be the practice whose quality control standards are so low that patients will have better success ordering online than they do in your practice!

Personal Interaction
Online ordering will appeal to some of the patients, some of the time.Patients who are accustomed to purchasing eyewear fromproviders whooffer minimal services, may find that online ordering is a great value. Patients who are accustomed to purchasing eyewear from offices that emphasize quality control and patient satisfaction from highly trained optical staff will find the online process so different from services they have received previously, that they may hesitate to make this change.

If patients want PD information, consider offering a “comprehensive dispensing package” for their online needs.Pricing for this should be equal to or greater than what vision plans pay for dispensing services.Do not do what the online vendors want you to do, which is “just charge a minimal fee!”If you offer a dispensing package, be sure to include a disclaimer for breakage or warranty since you are not providing the materials and cannot be responsible for material quality.

Aside from the potential income of a “comprehensive dispensing package,” you will be able to collect feedback as to accuracy and quality control when patients order online. As a profession, we need to know this information.When these patients come in, you’ll have a chance to educate them about what your office would do differently in terms of precision, frame color, shape, size or lens finishing. After all, even eyecare professionals would find it hard to order from viewing photos of frames.

And, as these patients visit your dispensary, at least some of them will get bored with online ordering and prefer the experience of ordering locally.The combination of personal interaction and excellent quality control may tempt them and win them back.

Related ROB Articles
Compete with Online Optical Sales by Enhancing Patient Services

Measure Patient Satisfaction, Learn How to Grow Patient Loyalty

Turn Angry Patients Into Practice Advocates

Ally Stoeger, OD,is a practicing optometrist and a practice consultant. She also develops resources for optometrists on To contact her: ally@realpracticetoday.comor703-999-9279

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