How To Expand Your Practice With Specialty Contact Lenses

By Kate Gettinger, OD May 26, 2020

Many practitioners may shy away from the idea of specialty contact lenses, thinking that the fits are too difficult and time-consuming to be profitable. In truth, specialty contact lenses can be a great way to set your practice apart and bring in additional revenue without taking a lot of extra effort to implement. So where do you start?

Which Lenses Should You Fit?

Specialty contact lenses include any lenses that are not a standard fit. They can be specialty GP designs such as multifocal, hybrid, intralimbal, and keratoconic lenses, semiscleral and scleral lenses, and even some soft multifocal lenses.

Contact specialty manufacturers to request as many fitting sets as possible for your office. Many manufacturers will offer these complimentary, but others may have a policy of refunding the cost of the set after you have fit a certain number of patients with the lenses. The more fitting sets you have in your office, the greater the range of lens parameters you will have available, and the greater the chance of a successful fitting.

If you are hesitant about where to start, consider choosing one type of lens and implementing it into your practice. Scleral lenses are a great starting option, as they are generally straight forward fittings and can be applied to a number of different patient situations.

Many specialty lens companies will offer training for doctors and offer free fit consultations to help you when you are learning how to fit different lenses. Conferences usually host hands-on sessions for anyone wanting to refresh their fitting knowledge. Do your homework and prepare your staff for the new fitting requirements in order to make the transition smoother.

"...the average annual revenue generated by a single contact lens patient can be as high as $326. Considering this median revenue value, if one in six of your patients is dropping out of contacts, this could result in a loss of $19,497 to $24,556 for your practice over the entire lifetime of that patient."


What Patients Should You Fit With Specialty Contact Lenses?

One of the biggest misconceptions with specialty contact lens fittings is the concept that they are only useful for challenging patients. In actuality, any patient can be fit with specialty contact lenses. Even a patient with a healthy cornea can find benefits from wearing a specialty lens.

Consider scleral lenses. If you have a patient in soft lenses who has a general complaint of their lenses drying out by the end of the day, rather than trying a handful of other soft lenses and attempting to enforce a regiment of artificial tears and hydrogen peroxide solutions, consider a scleral fit, which will offer improved comfort throughout the entire day due to the fluid tear layer behind the lens.

According to a large international study, one in six patients will discontinue contact wear due to discomfort. This can have a huge impact on your practice.

According to the same study, the average annual revenue generated by a single contact lens patient can be as high as $326. Considering this median revenue value, if one in six of your patients is dropping out of contacts, this could result in a loss of $19,497 to $24,556 for your practice over the entire lifetime of that patient. Wouldn’t you rather be able to offer an alternative fitting option for these patients rather than miss out on thousands of dollars of revenue? Plus, you’ll have the added reward of keeping the patient happy and satisfied by being able to remain comfortably glasses-free.

Any patient who has a high demand for accurate visual acuity can make an ideal specialty contact lens fit. Specialty lenses offer a crisper, more consistent acuity than soft lenses. Athletes or competitive shooters who need high precision vision are often a great match for specialty lenses, as they can rely on the accuracy of their vision to compete at a higher level.

Patients with medium to high corneal astigmatism who are unhappy with soft torics can be often successfully refit to a specialty lens. According to a 2018 study, even patients who had no current complaints about their soft toric lenses reported preferring large diameter rigid gas permeable lenses when given the choice. This indicates that even asymptomatic astigmatic patients can benefit from specialty lens fits.

Obviously, specialty contact lenses are also the go-to choice for any challenging cornea patients. Those with keratoconus, corneal scarring, ocular surface disease, and myopia control patients will benefit from a specialty contact lens fit.

Whatever the case, any patient you are able to successfully fit in a specialty contact lens is going to be your best form of publicity. A happy patient will spread the word about your niche and bring in additional patients, even those who may not require specialty lenses.

How to Grow Your Practice With Specialty Contact Lenses

Once you’ve decided to add specialty fits to your practice, it’s important to get the word out and publicize it. Post on your website and social media to inform patients about this new technology you are offering. 

If you are just starting, you can host a “fitting night” in which you can invite prospective patients to try new specialty lenses at a discounted rate. You can even get representatives from the specialty lens companies to be present and to discuss the benefits with patients and assist with fits.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other ODs in your area and let them know you are offering specialized fit services. Many doctors may not take the time to perform specialty fits and will happily refer patients to you when the standard soft contacts no longer do the trick. Ophthalmologists are also usually friendly to the idea of partnering with you in order to fit challenging patients.

When you take on these new cases, be honest with patients and let them know that the fitting process takes time and you may need to try several lenses before the fit is finalized. Setting patient expectations appropriately can often make the difference between a successful fit and a flop.

Provide handouts to patients to inform them about the specific lens they are being fit in and also clearly describe your refund policy. Be upfront about any costs associated with the lenses, including any additional testing or follow-up visit fees. Specialty lenses take additional time and effort to fit, so the last thing you want is to go through the whole process only to have the patient balk at the price in the end.

Don’t be discouraged at first if implementing specialty lenses seems slow-going. As you gain more experience and fit more patients, you will slowly start to find more and more specialty lens patients popping up on your schedule. You can attract more patients by incorporating your new specialty contact lens services into your marketing mix. 

Setting your practice apart by fitting specialty lenses will help both your business and your patients. By offering something different from the mass market soft lenses and taking the time to troubleshoot with patients, you will gain satisfied patients as well as carve out a niche for yourself that can be financially rewarding.

Kate Gettinger, OD

Dr. Kate Gettinger grew up in upstate Illinois and obtained her Bachelor’s in Biology from Truman State University. She worked throughout her undergraduate career at an optometrist’s office and fell in love with the profession. She received her Doctorate in Optometry from University of Missouri-St. Louis Optometry School and received honors for specialization in low vision, including the William Feinbloom Low Vision Award. Dr. Gettinger enjoys treating and managing dry eye, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes. Her professional interests include ways to improve healthcare access to at-risk communities and improving public health. Dr. Gettinger routinely contributes to optometry publications and writes both educational and advocacy articles. Currently residing in St. Louis, Dr. Gettinger enjoys spending time outdoors with her dog, trying new foods and dining out at local restaurants, playing trivia, brushing up on her French language skills, and exploring new challenges.

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