Finances

What to Do When Patients Communicate Directly with Ophthalmic Manufacturers

By Brian Chou, OD, FAAO

Oct. 28, 2015

We all depend on manufacturers of contact lenses, spectacle lenses and frames to deliver vision correction and positive patient experiences.

Often the manufacturers take a behind-the-scenes role. But this is changing. I’ve observed patients increasingly communicate with manufacturers in favor of reaching out to our practices.

There are a multitude of reasons for this. Sometimes it’s because patients believe that the manufacturer is the greatest authority. It can also be more convenient to reach the manufacturer because they are just an e-mail, live-chat, or phone call away, with their contact information online. It could result if the patient isn’t getting what they want from the practice, so they contact the manufacturer.

Increasingly, manufacturers directly advertise their products to consumers – including medical devices and prescriptive pharmaceuticals. For the manufacturer, this is spurred by the prospect of a greater return on investment by marketing to consumers instead of doctors. The typical scenario behind direct manufacturer-to-consumer communication is when the manufacturer has a product which doctors generally ignore due to unfamiliarity or perceived lack of patient benefit.

Here are two key ECP tips:

1) Attentively listen to our patients, acknowledging their requests and inquiries, even when they seem trivial. Make it easy for them to ask you.

2) Listen to manufacturer representatives. They are valuable in helping us keep up-to-date on their new products and their consumer campaigns. Based on our feedback, they can influence how their company directly communicates with consumers.

While the manufacturer can facilitate the patient-doctor relationship, there are situations where they unwittingly undermine the patient-doctor relationship. This occurs when the manufacturer and practice are not on the same page. Here are examples from my practice of what can go wrong:

Manufacturer remedies patient complaint. A patient contacted the spectacle manufacturer due to scratched anti-reflective lenses. The spectacle representative had the patient’s glasses redone without directing the patient back to our practice where the lenses were purchased. In this case, the manufacturer representative reinforced the patient’s perception that my practice did not honor their product warranty.

Manufacturer makes a recommendation to patient. A patient wearing monthly silicone hydrogel toric lenses called up the manufacturer, inquiring whether the lenses should be replaced after 30 uses, or 30 days, from initial wear regardless of number of uses. The representative’s response conflicted with my recommendation, leading the patient to claim that I prescribed her the “wrong” lens.

Patient makes request of manufacturer. A patient wearing a six-month replacement contact lens called the manufacturer trying to order single lenses. These lenses are only sold through prescribing providers.

My practice sells two-packs of this lens to reinforce the importance of six-month replacement for ocular health under FDA approval, minimize per-lens cost to the patient, and to streamline our practice operations for maximal efficiency and reducing order errors. The company representative told the patient that prescribing providers can order single lenses in addition to two-packs. Consequently, the patient felt he was “price gauged” by buying two-packs, so he transferred his care elsewhere.

The aforementioned examples illustrate what happens when a manufacturer provides information conflicting with the practitioner’s information. While the representatives did their best to help, they inadvertently created the perception that my practice acted against the patient’s best interests.

To prevent these scenarios, practitioners must let the manufacturers know about these unfortunate situations. Manufacturers can also seek practitioner feedback. The resulting dialogue can facilitate development of standardized protocols to guide their customer service representatives on how to interact with the public. If the representatives aren’t sure how to respond, I believe it’s safest for them to encourage the patient to contact the provider, giving the practitioner latitude to practice.

If something seems amiss, or potentially problematic, I believe most practitioners would appreciate having the representative directly contact them and explain the situation, together seeking resolution.

How do you handle patients who bypass you, and communicate directly with ophthalmic manufacturers? What are the hazards of patients communicating on their own with manufacturers, and how can you lessen those potential pitfalls?

Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, is a partner with EyeLux Optometry in San Diego, Calif. To contact him: chou@refractivesource.com.

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