I think we can all agree that the Federal Trade Commission’s new Final Contact Lens Rule, adopted in late June after four years of debate, is a lousy deal for optometry. First on everyone’s minds is the financial hit. A policy that mandates prescription release, and takes great pains to make clear that patients will know they have the freedom to price shop, will cause the bottom to drop out of many practices’ materials sales.

Then there’s the red tape. Practices are expected to provide the Rx, document this exchange, maintain proof of Rx release for at least three years and still deal with the litany of robo-calls for prescription confirmations from big-box sellers. If you have concerns about these verification requests from retailers, you’re free to chase them down for clarification. Good luck with that.

Finally, there’s the risk to patients. Putting price front and center in the minds of contact lens wearers is going to foster a mindset that cost concerns should drive their decisions. The prospect of cheap lenses delivered in 24 hours will hold much more sway than nebulous concepts like lens design, visual acuity, eye health, routine check-ups and all the rest. Prices are clear, unambiguous signals people use to evaluate their options. Quality of care is far less measurable. 

Even in a good year, none of this would be met with enthusiasm. And this is certainly not a good year. But maybe the chaos of 2020 creates a perfect opportunity to start moving beyond reliance on product sales. Think about it: practice finances are so off the rails this year anyway that it might be the best time in recent memory to rejigger your fee structure to value your skills more than your inventory. 

That strategy has been advocated for decades, and the comeback has always been: easier said than done. Many practices simply need product revenue to survive (or at least maintain the expected returns). Since COVID-19 has forced most practices to make tough calls about changes to their staffing, supplies and services already, what’s a little more? As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Raising your contact lens fitting fees wouldn’t go down easy with established patients who are accustomed to what they’ve been paying. What could justify a sudden hike? It’s not like you suddenly got 20% better at fitting lenses, right? They’ll likely need a loyalty discount of some kind to prevent bad blood. But adding specialty services like scleral lens fitting and even a renewed push into multifocals (still a distressingly small portion of lens sales in most practices) could add to the complexity of your offerings and help justify a new approach to how you bill for contact lens services. 

Product sales revenue won’t go away overnight; it’s too ingrained in most traditional optometry practices. But starting to wean off that reliance will add some distance between you and cut-throat retailers, who’ll always have a price advantage. Focus instead on yours: clinical expertise.