Matt Geller, OD, sat down with Linda Chous, OD, who shares great tips on handling children and contact lenses and how to use this demographic to develop a niche practice.
“Usually around middle school, kids start wondering about contact lenses,” Chous says. And some parents want to know what the “magic age” for contact lenses is — but of course, there’s no magic age. What Chous looks at, she says, is “motivation and responsibility.”
When it comes to motivation, she means the patient’s motivation—not the parents’! “As you might expect,” Chous says, “There are a lot of parents that are more interested in their child wearing contact lenses than the child is. Especially for sports, if they’re a gymnast or a dancer or a skater, a lot of times the parents will say, “It would be really good if you had contacts for that,” and the child doesn’t want to have anything to do with that. And it never works!”
The other major factor is responsibility. And by this, Chous says, she doesn’t mean chores or homework, but rather, whether a child is able and willing to come to their parents or their optometrist if they’re having a problem with their contacts. “It’s the responsibility of knowing that they need to tell Mom, or a teacher, or a school nurse, or me if there’s something wrong.”
She remembers from her own experience wearing contacts in high school how worried she was that the contacts would be taken away if she gave any indication that something was wrong. “I would have put rocks in my eyes if I had to,” she jokes. “And actually, they were PMMA, so I did put rocks in my eyes!”
So what Chous does with her patients is make it very clear that the trial contacts are not the only option! She shows her kids all the options in the contacts catalogue and makes sure that they know to come to her directly with any complaints about their contacts. “Kids learn early with me, so you can blame me ten years later when you have a complaining patient: Oh, they must have seen Linda Chous!” she laughs.
What’s her message to ODs who might be interested in merging the modality of contact lenses and pediatrics?
Communicate! A lot of people think there’s a “magic age” (usually 16), but there isn’t, and clearing up that misconception is half the battle. “Especially when you go into those lifestyle questions about the sports that they play or the hobbies or activities that they do,” she recommends, it’s easy to ask if they’ve ever considered wearing contacts.
For a lot of kids—and parents!—daily disposables are a huge hit. Kids and parents don’t have to worry about lens care and risk, particularly if they’re wearing contacts for activities rather than immediately wearing them full-time. However, “once they start wearing them, they start wearing them full-time,” Chous adds.
When Chous opened her practice in 1991, she wanted to create a setting where parents could imagine bringing their kids and feeling comfortable. She says that she assumed she’d get parents bringing in their kids with a note from the school nurse that their child was having trouble seeing—but what she got was slightly different. “I started seeing all these two-year-old accommodative esotropes. I was seeing all these plus kids, and kids with high astigmatism. And eventually they got to the age where they wanted contact lenses. And I was oftentimes limited to the lenses I could suggest to them because of the parameters that were available.” As her patients aged and the technology developed, she started adding more contact lenses to her practice’s services.
So what does this kind of specialty service mean for practice marketing? “Early on in my practice we did all kinds of advertising,” says Chous. But word-of-mouth, particularly when you’re doing something as unusual as pediatric contact lenses, is a powerful force! “It’s inexpensive and it works wonders,” Chous says, “Because it’s testimonials.”
When asked if she asks patients to recommend her, Chous laughs. “I’m kind of like, hey, whatever works! That’s a great way to do it, I think. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, right?”
It’s a very fulfilling modality for Chous. “My motto is, we see big kids too,” Chous laughs. “I’ve developed this secondary niche of moms who are around the age of forty, early forties, who are looking at bifocal contact lenses, or who are experiencing dry eye. It’s almost like a little secondary niche that I’ve developed because I started seeing their children. And so it’s opened up my practice to other areas too, that can be just as interesting as working with kids.”