The shift in contact lens practice from reusable to replaceable lenses—particularly daily disposables—has been great for patients in many ways. But by creating a need for ongoing, high-volume product purchases by patients, it has exposed practices to competition from big box and online retailers, who use their ubiquity and economies of scale to downgrade the value of professional expertise.

In such a price-and-convenience driven climate, how do you market your practice? Should you offer free examinations to patients who purchase lenses from you? How can you establish a relationship with your patients that will keep them coming back to you instead of competitors? These tips from several experts in contact lens marketing will help answer these questions—and give you a leg up on the competition.

DON’T call yourself a contact lens “fitter.”

Doing so decreases the value of your practice and the service you provide your patients. Brian Chou, OD, who practices in San Diego, says that eye care practitioners must realize that most consumers believe that “contact lens fitting” is something they can do on their own. In fact, he says, many consumers feel it’s “no different from fitting shoes or underwear.”

Jack Schaeffer, OD, President and chief executive officer of Schaeffer Eye Center, with 13 locations in Alabama, agrees that optometrists should never refer to themselves as contact lens fitters. Instead, it’s important that optometrists refer to themselves as eye care practitioners or eye doctors. “We perform contact lens evaluations—not contact lens fittings,” he says.

“Even though the term ‘fitting’ is ingrained in our industry parlance, I believe that ‘evaluation’ and ‘prescribing’ are much better descriptions of what we do—and that’s what our patients should hear from us,” says Dr. Chou. He believes it is important for doctors to accurately communicate exactly what they’re doing.

For example, immediately after performing the over-refraction, he recommends saying something along the lines of the following: “I’ve carefully evaluated whether any increase or decrease in contact lens power is helpful.” That way, even if the contact lens prescription remains the same as before, the patient recognizes that you have provided a valuable service. “By accurately describing what’s performed, it’s possible to charge for what we do,” says Dr. Chou.
Five Marketing Tips from Gary Gerber, OD
1. Have a goal in mind before you start. Is the marketing you’re working on designed to increase your sales? If so, of what—a particular brand or modality? Or are you seeking to increase sales overall? Determine this before deciding on a marketing strategy.

2. Repetition is critical. Do not expect a “one and done” approach to be productive. Run the same campaign for a while—typically until it stops being effective.

3. Consistency is just as important as repetition, and the two concepts go hand in hand. Ensure that the look, feel and message of what you do is consistent across all media. Your Facebook and Twitter posts should look and sound like your radio ad, which should mimic your in-house signage. Build your brand!

4. Be sure to alert your staff to exactly what you’re doing; they can and should be an integral part of your marketing strategy. There’s nothing worse than a prospective patient calling your practice only to have a staff member reply with “You got what in the mail?” Communicate with your staff!

5. Define success for your practice before you start. For example, “If we see 12 patients in five weeks, that’s success.” If you do succeed, repeat the campaign, tweaking it when necessary, until it stops working. Additionally, when defining success, determine the long-term value of a patient. If a campaign costs $1,000 and two patients spend $700, that’s not necessarily a failure, given how much a patient will spend over his or her lifetime.

DO educate patients on contact lens pricing policies.
Several contact lenses are sold under what is known as a universal pricing policy, which made the news in late July when congressional hearings addressed claims of anti-competitive practices. When recommending such lenses to your patients, Dr. Chou says it is essential to proactively educate them on this particular policy—lenses that fall under this category cannot be sold below a minimum price, which is set by the manufacturer.

Tell your patients that this is a practice not exclusive to contact lenses. Brands such as Apple and Samsung also employ unilateral pricing policies on many of their popular products.

“If your practice is pricing the lenses at the minimum, the patient should know there is no cost advantage to them purchasing the lenses elsewhere,” says Dr. Chou. Additionally, by purchasing the lenses through your practice, your patients gain the convenience of one-stop ordering, while know that in the unusual event they experience a problem, “your practice stands behind both the product and the service,” says Dr. Chou. This eliminates any finger pointing between the service provider and a separate prescription provider.

Just as critical: Make sure your professional fees adequately reflect the time, expertise and customization you bring to their experience of being prescribed contact lenses. Take the focus off price per se and make it about value.

DO establish a strong doctor-patient relationship with all of your patients.
It’s important to understand that a patient can attribute their contact lens-wearing success to one of two things: the contact lens brand or your expertise in prescribing their contact lenses. As such, it is paramount to establish the latter to maintain your current patients and continue to gain new ones.

If a patient believes the reason for their success is the lens brand rather than your expertise, they will likely go with the lowest-cost provider of that particular brand due to a loyalty to that particular product, according to Dr. Chou. This creates a “patient-product” relationship and takes the service you offer out of the equation entirely.

“If you’ve built the value of your service, the desirable outcome is a ‘patient-doctor’ relationship,” says Dr. Chou. He adds it’s important to keep in mind that most direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns by contact lens manufacturers seek to build the “patient-product” relationship. Providing your patients with exceptional professional service, education on products and pricing, and thorough evaluations can help establish a “patient-doctor” relationship and constantly improve your practice.

Five Marketing Tips from Jack Schaeffer, OD
1. All contact lens patients should be prescribed a pair of glasses to use in the evenings. This will allow them to rest their eyes after wearing their lenses all day and provide correction should they encounter any major or minor complications with their contacts.

2. A comprehensive ocular surface disease evaluation should be performed on all at-risk patients. This covers any child, and patients with dry eye or any ocular or systemic diseases.

3. Ensure that all extended wear patients are remaining compliant. A six-month evaluation should be performed on all extended wear patients. Any patient who is not compliant should not be given a new prescription. Additionally, all children should be evaluated every six months for compliance, ocular surface changes and/or prescription changes.

4. Any patient who has a half-diopter or more of astigmatism should be evaluated for a toric lens. Any over-refraction on contact lens rechecks should be a sphero-cylinder refraction.

5. A practice should never advertise free contact lens trials without a comprehensive contact lens evaluation. Additionally, a practice should never advertise a free eye exam or a free contact lens evaluation with the purchase of anything—these two medically related entities should be respected.