Practice Management

The ROI of 3 Changes Empowering Me to Better Compete as an Independent

The optical in Dr. Whipple’s office. He says that creating a price quote sheet and decreasing the number of spectacle lens options has helped boost patient satisfaction and sales.

By Ian G. Whipple, OD

June 8, 2022

Competition to be successful as an independent OD is fierce. In addition to other independents competing locally, we have large retail chains and online retailers to compete against, along with the pressures placed on us by managed care.

Here are a few changes we made in our office that boosted our ability to effectively compete and grow a profitable practice.

Added Online CL Ordering Technology
About three years ago, our office partnered with CLX, which created an online contact lens sales opportunity for us.

Editor’s Note: Other online contact lens ordering platforms are also available, including Abby  from ABB Optical GroupMARLO from Alcon and LensFerry from CooperVision, among other options.

There were two reasons why this move made sense. First, managed-care companies are marketing directly to my patients. It’s easy to see that the goal of these marketing efforts is to entice patients to purchase from vertically integrated online vendors (often owned by the insurance company).

Secondly, we wanted to give our office an online presence.

Modern life has disrupted the old brick-and-mortar business models. For a while it was all about online sales. We now know that consumers want a combination of “brick and click.” Businesses that were once strictly online, such as Warby Parker, are opening physical retail locations at record pace. They came to our backyard, so we should be in theirs. Private optometry practices should also be playing in the virtual space.

Patients are now able to purchase online directly from our office, so profit from the contact lens sales stays in our practice. The technology also tracks sales made in our office. Any patient who does not purchase an annual supply is automatically set up for reminder notifications when their supply is running low that it’s time to purchase more lenses. It integrates easily with our contact lens distributor, OOGP, and our practice management software, OfficeMate. It takes one click of a button for patients to order contact lenses, and my staff members love how easy it is to process an order.

I see contact lens orders coming into my office in the middle of the night, weekends and holidays, virtually extending our hours of availability.

ROI: A CLX sales report from a recent week showed that my office sold an annual supply to 88 percent of patients for whom a finalized prescription was granted. The remainder of patients will have the opportunity to purchase from us online at their convenience.

Patients are also offered a subscription service whereby payments and shipments are automated. Roughly 5 percent of these patients eventually purchased from our office via CLX. Automated sales via CLX for a recent month totaled $641. Again, these are sales from patients who didn’t purchase an annual supply from us at their initial visit, but did purchase in 3-6 months when their lenses were running out.

Embracing online contact lens ordering technology enhanced the patient experience. It gives our patients the ability to purchase from us on their own time.

Created Glasses & CL Price Quote Sheet
Creation of a custom price quote generator helps us better compete in glasses sales.

Every optician trained in our office tells me that the hardest part about their training is understanding patients’ vision insurance benefits. Managed-care benefits seem to be intentionally tricky, and it is easy for an optician to miss co-pays or miscalculate the patient’s out-of-pocket expense. We created a novel glasses quote generator, which simplifies and speeds up the process of quoting the cost of glasses.

We found that it took roughly five minutes to generate a quote for glasses (using insurance) with our practice management software. The new glasses quote generator can help opticians complete the same task in under a minute. This is especially helpful if a patient wants multiple quotes (for multiple pairs or to compare a better and best option.)

previously described the process by which I created the custom glasses quote calculator. I plan to make this quote generator available to other doctors to purchase, or possibly a free version with ads, later this year.

One of our goals is to keep patients in our office for less than an hour. Pretesting and examination time frequently requires 40 minutes, leaving a golden 20 minutes for our optical team to help patients complete their treatment plan by selecting glasses and purchasing contact lenses. Every minute is valuable. A quick and accurate quote generator improved sales in both quality and quantity.

ROI: I estimate that our opticians save about six minutes per transaction by using our glasses quote generator. The extra six minutes is now spent educating patients on how to use their glasses, promoting second-pair sells and setting expectations for their new eyewear. Our average glasses sale improved by $30 after we implemented this system.

Profitability in a managed-care marketplace is achieved by high-quality sales. The way opticians price glasses in our office generates higher-quality sales.

Decreased the Number of Spectacle Lens Offerings
I’m not picking on Mexican restaurants, but we’ve all seen the menu at the small mama-and-papa Mexican restaurant where there are hundreds of entrees on the menu. Some are fried, some are rolled, others are folded, but all of the menu items are really just meat, beans, rice, in (or outside of) some form of a tortilla.

Contrast that long menu with the menu at In-N-Out Burger, where you only have to decide if you want a single or double patty and if you want your burger with or without cheese. The Mexican menu stresses me out. I always want the best. How could I ever know which of the 138 items on that menu are going to be the best?

I wanted to make the process of purchasing glasses from our practice as easy as the In-N-Out experience. Gone are the days when we offered six levels of anti-reflective treatments and several dozen progressive lens designs.

Years ago, I sat down with my lens laboratory sales rep, who was gracious enough to spend a couple hours educating me on the intricacies and subtle differences of each lens design and add-on. We created three packages for patients to choose from. Our opticians recommend “Better” and “Best” packages, which include polycarbonate material and anti-reflective/UV protection. The only decisions patients need to make is if they want to upgrade to high-index and if they want Transitions Lenses.

We can compete in the managed-care world by strategically selling certain products. Our packages target the best options for our patients, which also happen to be the more profitable lens options.

Simplifying our “menu” also decreased our optician learning curve because now our staff only needs to be educated on a handful of products.

ROI: In the first quarter of 2022, 92 percent of glasses sold in our office included anti-reflective properties. Twenty-two percent were photochromic. ZERO glasses lenses were CR-39. Our numbers prior to this change in glasses offerings were abysmal.

Decreasing the number of spectacle lens options offered to patients is a no-cost, low-hanging-fruit move that every OD should consider.

Ian G. Whipple, OD, is the owner of Vision Source of Farr West in Farr West, Utah. To contact him: 

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