Starting to wear contact lenses can be a life-changing event for patients as it means they can experience the world without glasses. Why, though, do so few patients actually use contact lenses and how can optical professionals help more patients access this product? Reah Armstrong FBDO CL, Specsavers Australia & New Zealand Head of Contact Lenses, explores these questions.
In recent years, advancements in contact lens materials and simpler care regimes have removed some of the old barriers to contact lens uptake. Single use, silicone hydrogel lenses mean easy to use, comfortable lenses are available to a wide range of patients, however, in Australia and New Zealand, the number of wearers remains low compared to the rest of world.
Research suggests that even though there are many lifestyle triggers that may prompt a patient to consider contact lens wear, there are just as many roadblocks hindering the journey. Making a few small changes to the way contact lenses are offered in practice could make a big difference to your patients’ perceptions of both contact lenses and you as a practitioner.
Patients will cite a variety of reasons for not wanting to try contact lenses, but these will usually fall into one of three factors: fear, cost, hassle. Some simple changes can be made to combat these concerns.
Some patients are fearful of the process of inserting a contact lens and are averse to the idea of touching their eye. In some situations, you may simply have to move on to an alternative solution, but there may be other times when you can clearly see how the patient would benefit from the use of contact lenses and want to help them past their fear.
Instead of opening the discussion with the words ‘contact lenses’, consider starting a dialogue by asking the patient to come up with things they would like to do with ‘glasses-free time’. This approach to introducing contact lenses was tested in the 2009 EASE (Enhanced Approach to Selecting Eyewear) study1.
Participants were offered contact lenses to help choose glasses. This diverted attention away from the thought of wearing contact lenses and focussed on an immediate benefit: being able to see the frames. The results showed that 88% of the test group accepted contact lens use to select their glasses and spent 32% more on their glasses purchase than the control group. After a three-month period, 33% of the test group had also purchased contact lenses compared to 13% of the control group.
Look out for opportunities to discuss ‘glasses-free time’ with patients to identify how this may enhance their lives, and consider keeping a small supply of minus power contact lenses in your consulting room to offer your patients the experience of being able to see the frames they are trying on.
If a patient is unsure about pursuing contact lenses, associated costs can present an early roadblock. In Australia, high prescription contact lens fits are covered by Medicare with Specsavers subsidising all other prescriptions. The fitting fee is also waived for our New Zealand patients when they purchase their contact lenses with Specsavers. However, despite a lack of initial assessment fees, concerns with cost can still arise when the patient is faced with the final product cost.
To make the conversation around retail price easier, consider establishing a ‘Good, Better, Best’ range with clear benefits at each level. For example, you may choose to limit silicone hydrogel to ‘Better’ and ‘Best’ so that the wear time and comfort benefits are a clear differentiator. Also consider other features that demonstrate clear benefits to the patient, such as UV filter. Discussing the cost per wear and highlighting relevant features will help the patient appreciate the overall value of the product rather than focus on the dollar value.
Many patients are time poor and find it hard to fit extra appointments into their already busy schedules. Returning for contact lens fitting and end of trial appointments may be a stretch for even the most motivated patients.
While some patients do require additional visits for more involved fitting, many patients’ requirements can be met with simple fitting of daily silicone hydrogel lenses. For these patients, a more streamlined approach can be adopted: ‘Contact Lens Experience’.
Contact Lens Experience is a four-step process developed by Specsavers that is designed to run alongside a sight test appointment and result in a dispense of both glasses and contact lenses in one visit.
The four steps are:
- TARGET your patient – Agree on a target group from your store’s demographic to aid your support staff in identifying possible candidates early on in the visit.
- STREAMLINE your products – As previously mentioned, a ‘Good, Better, Best’ approach assists in explaining the value of a product to the patient. Additional advantages are increased staff engagement as the range is more accessible for them to understand, and reduced storage requirements.
- TEACH – Conducting a same-day teach takes planning but pays dividends in creating a memorable experience for your patient and leads to the final step.
- DISPENSE – With a fitting and teach completed and lenses trialled during frame selection and dispense, completing a short check means a prescription can be issued and contact lenses dispensed.
Post-purchase support can be offered to the patient remotely via phone calls or text messages to ask how they are going with handling and comfort. Many practices also have a dedicated email address for questions.
As optical professionals, we have an obligation to offer our patients the visual correction options applicable to them, but we also have the unique opportunity to change the way they see the world and live their lives. Reducing the roadblocking factors of Fear, Cost, and Hassle leaves room for patients to think about all the new things they can do with their ‘glasses-free time’.
- Nick, A. P., Morgan, S. L., & Morgan, P. B. (2009). Enhancing the approach to selecting eyewear (EASE): A multi-centre, practice-based study into the effect of applying contact lenses prior to spectacle dispensing. Contact Lens and Anterior Eye, 32(3), 103-107. doi: 10.1016/j.clae.2009.02.004