Doctor Patient Relations

Make Your Practice Teen-Ready

By Jason Miller, OD, MBA

Welcome teenagers: emerging consumers! Create promotions that speak to both teen patients and their parents, and accommodate the special scheduling needs of teens.

Youcan provide a needed family service by catering to adolescent patients aged 13 to 18, while alsokeying your message to theirparents, who makethe health care andbuying decisions for the family.Teens are squashed in the middle of the two main patient segments for most practices–adults and young children–but that doesn’t mean teens aren’t also a profit center themselves. When it comes to buying product, you will be hard-pressed to find a market more motivated than teenagers who want to look good and be in style. That motivation translates potentially into more frequent purchases of eyeglasses and more reliable purchases of contact lenses. Studies confirm that while teens may not have money of their own in their pockets they exert strong influence over family expenditures.

Manage Doctor-Teen-Parent Relationship

The tricky thing about teens is that even though many lead independent lifestyles in which they drive themselves to and from school and have afterschool jobs that pay for most of their leisure spending money, they are still legallyminors. In addition to legal concerns, teens still need parents involved in their eyecare as they do for all their healthcare. For those reasons, my practice opts to have parents in the exam room whenever possible with teens. If the teen drives him or herself to our office, we either speak to the parent by phone or send the parent information about the examination.

Along with legal concerns, having a parent present will reinforce your eye health message and information you give to teens about visiting annually for exams and taking proper care of their contact lenses. I validate parental instructions in the exam room. For example, many teens automatically disregard their parents’ instructions because they are their parents. For that reason, I often discuss my recommendations to teens in front of their parents and let them know their parents are correct when they tell them not to sleep overnight in their contact lenses.

You Probably Already Have Many Teen Patients

The challenge for most practices isn’t having teen patients–it’s finding ways to encourage them to visit regularly and choose your practice as the best place to buy product. For example, at the practice I co-own, we estimate to have about 2,000patients aged13 to 18. The national average per encounter is $306 per patient, including product sales. Do the math ($306 X 2,000), and you’ll see that if all of these patients came in annually for check-ups, we would generate $612,000 annually from their patient encounters. But to accomplish that optimal profit, you first must find ways to ensure all of these patients return each year to your practice.

Use Social Media to Give Teens Incentive to Visit

Unlike adults, teens probably won’t visit your practice just because they are worried about their eye health. After all, when is the last time you heard a 15-year-old lament the dangers to her vision? Instead, the key is marketing your practice to families with teens as the place to come for contact lens annual supplies and the latest in eyewear fashion. Since teens are legally considered minors until the age of 18, do not market to them directly. Instead, focus on creating teen-friendly Facebook, Yelp and other social media pages that teens will notice and share with their parents.

In addition to back-to-school discounts, how about posting back-to-high school and back-to-middle school discounts that parents will see or teens will notice and excitedly alert their parents about to convince them to get them a new pair of eyeglasses or supply them with contact lenses. All online marketing should offer pictures of eye fashions your frame vendors tell you are selling well to adolescents. You could even try a special on driving sunwear for teens who just got their driver’s license. Not only do fashionable teens push parents for the latest styles of sunglasses–parents concerned about their children’s safety also will notice that promotion. Besides advertising frame fashions, we use our Facebook page to offer information about tinted contact lenses and “crazy eyes” contact lenses around Halloween, which are popular with teens.

Another good hook for parents and teens is to use social media to offer bundled deals on new eyeglasses and contact lenses for patients returning to middle school or high school. A higher percentage–as high as 30 percent more–of these patients need vision correction and a vast majority of them prefer contact lenses compared to adults and younger children. They are more aware of their image than younger children and adults and are therefore more motivated to learn how to wear contact lenses. Be sure your marketing materials sent through social media and on your web site focus on the availability of contact lenses at your practice. You also have an opportunity to sell backup pairs of eyeglasses for teens who wear contact lenses. With contact lens-wearing teens needing to come back each year to get their contact lens prescription renewed and the need for eyewear like backup eyeglasses, teens who wear contact lenses will be more profitable over time than teens who do not wear contact lenses.

Offer Adolescent Hours

You already should offer extended hours to cater to adults who work long hours and younger children who have after-school activities, but it is especially important to offer a flexible schedule to teens. With SAT prep courses and academic-related clubs in addition to sports activities, teen schedules are packed, and many do not want to give up socializing time on the weekend to visit the eye doctor. Also consider that most of the 16- to -18-year-olds in your practice drive and have their own cars. That means it is easiest for them to swing by late in the afternoon or in the early evening after they are finished with after school college prep courses, clubs or sports. If you don’t do it already, consider offering later appointment times for this teen population as well.

Also think about the most effective ways to communicate with teens once they are in your office. We are teen-friendly in our communications and have started utilizing technology like iPads to educate adolescents on eye conditions and for contact lens training.

Create Teen-Friendly Dispensary

If there are days and times when you see the majority of your teen patients, have an optician or two present in your dispensary who has been trained to work with these patients. That optician should be schooled by frame vendors on what frame fashions are most popular with teens and how to make the sale. We carry teen-specific brands of frames in our optical which our optician rotates often. Keep in mind that popular frame styles and brands change often with teens. Sports eyewearis very important, but the vast majority of teens would prefer contact lenses if given the choice.

Offer Bundled-Price Packages

Like the younger children your practice serves, teen patients are more prone than adults to breaking eyeglasses, so make it easy for teens to have backup eyewear. We have package pricing for some frame lines, which are a nice option for those teens just looking for back-up eyeglasses when they are not wearing their contact lenses. Every month, have your optician assess which teen-oriented frames are not selling as well as you hoped, and turn those frames into package deals for backup eyeglasses. You might offer as much as half off those frames or half-off the total eyeglasses for patients purchasing the eyeglasses as a second pair. Keep in mind that many teenagers have afterschool jobs and therefore have spending money of their own to devote to eyewear. Since some are expected to pay a portion, if not the whole, of their eyeglasses cost, they may be looking for deals.

The teen years are often not the easiest, so just taking these steps to make teens more comfortable in your office can go a long way to winning over them–and their parents.

Jason R. Miller, OD, MBA, has been in practice 11 yearsand is in a partnership independentpractice with Tamara M. Kuhlmann, OD, MS, atEyeCare Professionals of Powell, Ohio. Contact: jasonrmiller@columbus.rr.com.

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