The health care landscape is constantly changing. Optometrists working in private practice today are faced with growing competition from e-commerce, optometry chains, and, more recently, online refractions. These issues are not going away. In fact, it has been predicted that online refractions will become increasingly accurate and widespread in the future. To be successful in this competitive environment, optometrists must find a niche that attracts patients to their practice.
Instead of competing with online sales or giant optometry chains, why not offer something that simply cannot be obtained online—and something that is not offered by every optometry practice?
No two eyes are the same; each eye has its own unique shape and curvature, much like a fingerprint; one size does not fit all. Therefore, eye care—and contact lenses in particular—must be tailored to each patient’s needs, habits, and lifestyles. Providing contact lens fitting and care is a way for your optometry practice to offer a specialty niche, one that allows you to provide personalized and precise eye care to a growing office-based patient group. You can use this model to build your practice and improve your patients’ lives. This article briefly explains how.
Contact lens practices have multiple avenues for attracting patients. Some patients are already clients, and others may be referred by current patients through word of mouth. Most specialty contact lens patients, however, are referred to the practice by other practitioners. Still others may be attracted by marketing efforts, about which I’ll go into more detail below.
In building up a contact lens clientele, advertising, especially outside the practice, is important. Asking grateful patients to provide testimonials is an easy and inexpensive form of advertising. These testimonials can have a powerful impact. If the patient agrees, photos or videos can be shown to other patients in the office or can be posted on the internet.
Advertisements should target people in a specific demographic who would be good candidates for scleral lenses. Relevant keywords and content should be incorporated. Advertising media can include print (newspapers, journals, and magazines), television and radio, public displays on billboards or posters, websites, and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn). Each method has its own cost.
Published content should focus on topics such as scleral lens technology; new developments or products; common ocular conditions; or descriptions of the practice, practitioner, and staff. Addressing a variety of topics can help increase the practice’s visibility online and help grow the patient base, which in turn can generate more contact lens referrals.
It is important for the practice website to be esthetically pleasing, simple, easy to navigate, and, most important, discoverable. Both pay-per-click advertising and optimization on popular search engines such as Google can help increase the website’s visibility and attract potential patients.1
Word of Mouth
Internal marketing, or word of mouth, is often the most effective form of advertising. Staff members can help identify good candidates for contact lenses and initiate a discussion that complements the written or visual material in the office. Office staff can also address questions or concerns raised by patients in the office or through email and telephone inquiries.
A specialty in contact lenses can be an excellent way to strengthen your relationship with local ophthalmologists who are familiar with contact lenses but do not have the time or resources to dedicate to them. Many such physicians are more than happy to collaborate with a competent optometrist who specializes in contact lenses. Providing them with cards, referral folders, and other marketing materials can be a great way to demonstrate how the care of their patients can be optimized through a collaborative relationship. By working as a team, optometrists and ophthalmologists can provide better overall care for their patients.
Attracting referrals from colleagues in other disciplines, including ophthalmology, rheumatology, oncology, endocrinology, hematology, and oculoplastics, is vital for building and growing this part of your practice. It is incumbent on us to visit these physicians and let them know that we are ready to help. Such visits help convince potential referral sources about the benefits of contact lenses and their potential as alternatives to other interventions.
Specialty contact lenses (eg, scleral lenses, gas permeables, toric multifocals) in particular can help build a practice. They foster strong networks and good relationships with other eye care professionals, including cornea specialists,1 and thus they help to create bridges between optometry and ophthalmology.2 In fact, because some of the conditions treated by specialty lenses are so severe, some patients may already be followed by a cornea specialist before being referred to you.2
Building strong professional relations takes time, effort, and an ongoing commitment to excellence. It should be noted that ophthalmologists and other physicians who refer patients to your practice will expect to receive your surgical referrals in return.
It is essential to communicate well with these outside physicians by informing them what their patient’s vision is with contact lenses, what type of follow-up care you recommend, and other relevant details.1 It is not uncommon for patients to see both their contact lens specialist and referring physician multiple times. By working as parts of a team, these providers can furnish better overall continued care and generate new referrals.1 Moreover, the collaborating practitioners who share their knowledge and expertise will themselves benefit from these partnerships.2
SPECIALIZE AND STAND APART
Contact lenses can help build a practice and distinguish it from other practices. Fitting and designing contact lenses are time-consuming but rewarding areas of practice that many other eye care practitioners have no interest in. By specializing in contact lenses, you can help patients who have seen other physicians but have not yet found a solution that lets them see comfortably and clearly.
Contact lens expertise is a way to differentiate your practice from those of most other optometrists and to help you stand apart from the large chains or online optometric services that are working to replace you. Networking and advertising your specialty can generate referrals and help your practice grow.
Contact lens specialists should strive to continually update their expertise in contact lens design and stay current on recent research in order to provide patients with the best available lens technology. Work on building solid relationships with other clinicians based on trust and good communication. Becoming a specialty contact lens practice can lead to major rewards, both professional and financial, for you and your practice.
1. Barnett M. Building a scleral lens practice. Contact Lens Spectrum. 2017;32:4-6,8.
2. Arnold TP. Scleral lenses can strengthen bonds between MDs and ODs. CollaborativeEYE. November/December 2018. https://collaborativeeye.com/articles/nov-dec-18/scleral-lenses-can-strengthen-bonds-between-mds-and-ods/?single=true. Accessed April 23, 2020.