By Jennifer L. Stewart, OD
Jan. 20, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things, including the number of patients we can have in our office at one time and how our patients shop in our optical. One thing it has not changed, however, is the ability of patients to safely wear contact lenses. Indeed, there may be key opportunities related to patients’ contact-lens wear that you are overlooking.
With the fogging of masks with glasses on, and people wearing contacts more than ever, this may be the ideal time to discuss the continued safety of contact lenses, and the benefits of upgrading to a better lens, among other eyecare quality-of-life improvements.
Chance to Highlight How Safe Contacts Are
One of the biggest questions we have received since the start of the pandemic is: “Is it safe for me to continue to wear contact lenses with the risk of COVID-19?” We started sending out newsletters while we were closed for routine care letting patients know that, yes, it is completely safe to wear contact lenses. We also detailed ways to keep the lens-wearing experience safe, including proper care and hygiene. This includes proper hand-washing, disinfection of cases if using, proper storage (no topping off with solutions) and following the proper disposal and wear scheduled for contacts (no extended wear or stretching wearing).
Chance to Encourage Patients to Try a Lens Upgrade
This is also a great time to upgrade patients into healthier contact lenses. With the focus on hygiene, having a conversation in the exam room about daily disposable lenses has gotten even easier. While we have a high success rate with daily disposable lenses, I’ve noticed even more interest by asking patients how they feel about re-wearing lenses in today’s atmosphere.
My conversation with a patient may sound like this: “When you get home, the first thing you probably do is wash your hands, and change clothes, correct? But we are reusing the same lenses that we wore to the grocery store, restaurant, school pickup, etc, sometimes for up to 30 days? Wouldn’t you feel better in a lens that gets thrown out daily, and you start with a fresh lens in the morning?” Very few, if any, patient will have a hard time disagreeing with the health and safety of a daily disposable contact lens.
I also have used the focus on health to continue to upgrade my patients to silicon hydrogel daily disposables. Many patients are wearing their lenses longer while working from home, so the combination of increased oxygen permeability and better comfort is a win-win for everyone.
Chance to Connect with Patients By Sharing Your Personal Experience
I tell patients that I, too, am a contact lens wearer. I have been wearing my lenses more since COVID-19 started, even before the mask mandates began. I tell patients I wash my hands properly, wear daily disposable lenses and feel 100 percent safe doing so. I tell them it is OK to have concerns or fears, but that I am glad they brought them up to me, and we can absolutely continue to wear our contact lenses safely.
Chance to Educate on Dry Eye & Help You Can Provide
There has been a significant increase in dry eye complaints during the pandemic among all patients, including contact lens wearers. The combination of work environments, increased screen and device time and mask wearing has made dry eye a discussion I have with almost every patient.
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Education is key here, as many have an “aha” moment when I ask about increased screen time. Upgrading contact lens materials also makes a difference. Having a patient present with dryness is a home run when presenting new contact lens options (and preventing a contact lens dropout!)
Chance to Improve Convenience & Safety of Patients to Purchase CLs from You
We have always shipped most of our contact lenses directly to our patients, and I believe this is key for practices, especially during COVID-19. Patients (and consumers in general) have embraced a direct-ship model, and will continue to come to expect it in the future. By offering to direct-ship contact lenses to patients, we give them an added value in our practices, and also decrease the number of patients walking through our door (which, especially now, is significant).
Services such as MARLO and LensFerry continue to engage patients throughout the year by sending reminders when it is time to re-order contacts, and make it easy for patients to order through our offices. They also remind patients when it is time to return to our offices for exams.
In addition to the convenience for patients, the staff time saved is significant. If you are still shipping contacts to your office for patient pickup, my recommendation is to make a flow chart for each step of that process, and calculate the staff time needed. This includes taking the order, processing it, ordering the contact lenses, checking in the lenses when they arrive, calling the patient (maybe multiple times!), greeting that patient, taking payment, etc. Shipping contact lenses direct to patients eliminates a huge burden for your staff and frees them up for other patient encounters.
Chance to Show Through Your CL Care & Services How Innovative Your Practice Is
While there are many negatives to how COVID-19 has impacted our practices, I think there is a tremendous opportunity here for our contact lens practices. We can be innovators in how we present modalities and technologies to our patients, and keep them wearing their contact lenses safely and in the healthiest way.
We can make our practices more efficient and help our patients see the value and convenience of ordering contact lenses through our office by utilizing great programs such as MARLO and LensFerry, and even direct-ship. Continuing to adapt will serve us well in our practices in 2021 and beyond.
Jennifer Stewart, OD, is a partner in Norwalk Eye Care in Norwalk, Conn. She also is founder and chief vision officer of Performance 20/20, a sports vision training center in Stamford, Conn. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org