At Vision Expo East, we had the chance to sit down with Ed Buffington, President and Ceo of GPN Technologies; Steven Turpin, contact lens resident at Pacific University; and Drew Dias, President and CEO of DC Opticians’ Association to discuss what optometrists can do to create a more successful optometry practice.
“These days, we are being pushed to know our pathology and everything like that, and we lose a little bit of that education on how to properly hand off the patient, and how to educate the patient on their needs as far as vision correction,” says Steve Turpin. “A lot of people come into the exam and think they know exactly what they want, and then after hearing a little bit of information, or an explanation of something, they can change their minds.”
So much of an optometry practice’s success comes from every member of the team working together and communicating in order to help each other succeed. When it comes to the patient’s path from the exam room to the optical, Drew Dias says, “the challenge, especially when you’re talking about sales, is that that handoff is really important.”
“I think it’s one of the most important things that happen in the whole process. And a lot of opticians are working against their doctors, and vice versa—because the doctor will say, your prescription hasn’t changed a whole lot, here you go, and the optician now has to come up with something to say.”
“The phrase, selling from the chair—I’m not 100% behind that, actually. The patient experience between the optometrist and the optician is a bit different, the interaction is a little different,” says Dias. However, the optometrist has the chance to set their optician up for success by recommending different tools for their patients—whether it’s anti-fatigue lenses, a separate sunglasses prescription, and so on. That way, when the optometrist hands their patient off to the optician and gives them this information, the optician has something to work with and can give the patient targeted recommendations.
Dias doesn’t recommend that doctors use specific brand names when recommending these products to their patients, but he acknowledges that many will disagree with him.
“The reason I say that is because a lot of patients, when they’re in the exam room, they want to feel that there’s no bias. They don’t want to feel sold when they’re in the exam chair, and then go onto the sales floor and feel sold again,” says Dias. You can leave it up to the optician to bring up specific brands, and let your patient trust you to be the unbiased professional they want you to be!
When doctors interact with their opticians and can give their patients advice on what kinds of products they should be considering, Ed Buffington says, “the numbers go up dramatically.” And what independent practice owner wouldn’t want that?
As far as what the numbers tell you, though, what should you be shooting for when talking about a successful optometry practice?
“There’s work to be done in the practice if you’re not at least at a 65, 70% [capture rate],” says Buffington.
“It comes down to education,” says Steven Turpin. “The average capture rate for a contact lens sale is about that two-thirds. Two-thirds of patients are buying their lenses through their doctor. The highest profitability is from that year supply.” So letting your patients know that they have options, particularly when it comes to prices and potential rebates, is a huge help.
If your patients are ordering from online—especially when the price point isn’t significantly different—it’s important to ask yourself what’s going wrong in your practice. “Even though people like the convenience of online shopping, they also really like great service,” says Dias. Steven Turpin agrees. “There’s a number of different services that we as ODs can use that are more doctor-centric, but they are online marketplaces.” Some of these businesses offer subscription services and the other conveniences that patients turn to online ordering for, as well—for instance, some of them connect to your EHR, and will send a text to your patient alerting them when their supply is up!
“You know, what’s interesting—in over three decades of being in the business, there have been all kinds of disruptive technologies,” says Buffington. “But the reality is, for the good independents, nothing has really changed.” In the long view, Buffington says, a practice that focuses on the clinic and medical side of optometry, they’ll do well. “We always had the fear of these big disruptors, but generally in eyecare, that hasn’t happened.”
“Online eyewear sales make up about 4.4 percent of the market,” says Dias. “So it’s a really, really small subsection of the market—now, it’s also the fastest growing subset of the market,” he laughs. “But a lot of practices that really try to fight these industry disruptors, they end up having a harder time in the long run.” Like Turpin argues, there’s something to be said for focusing on what you do well, and make sure to do it really, really well.