By Margery Weinstein
Editor-in-Chief, Review of Optometric Business
May 5, 2021
Specialty contact lenses can transform the lives of patients who have never experienced satisfactory eyesight. The right specialty lens can bring that patient to more than satisfactory levels of vision, delivering superior
visual quality. When a practice that has specialty contact lenses as a differentiating niche is on the market, the seller may wonder what will become of these much-needed services. The right buyer can help a practice maintain, and even grow, niche services like specialty contact lenses.
Two ODs share how selling to AEG Vision allowed them to continue practicing just the way they always had. They share how their new parent company is helping them further strengthen their practices, including their specialty contact lens services.
Becoming a Referral Center for Specialty Contact Lenses
Thomas Arnold, OD, FSLS
Memorial Eye Center at Sugar Land
Sugar Land, Texas
“We do 3-6 new specialty contact lens fits per week,” says Dr. Arnold, who explains that 10-15 percent of these patients are placed in scleral lenses. Specialty lenses, including multifocal, gas permeable, Ortho-K and scleral lenses make up 30-40 percent of the practice’s patient base. Sixty percent of the practice’s patients are in any type of contact lens, whether that be traditional soft lenses or specialty contacts. AEG has encouraged Dr. Arnold to continue growing his specialty contact lens niche.
“They have allowed me the space to continue to practice as I always have,” Dr. Arnold emphasizes. “I started growing this segment eight years ago and developed it to a high level, and AEG has given me freedom continue providing these services in the way I want. They did not change my hours, fees or tell me I had to use one vendor or another. They totally support and respect what I do.” In fact, says Dr. Arnold, AEG wants him to continue building on his success. The long-term view presented to Dr. Arnold is one in which his practice becomes a referral center for other AEG practices to send patients in need of specialty contact lens services.
The possibility has been discussed of Dr. Arnold leading specialty contact lens seminars with wet labs and traveling to other AEG practices in other parts of the country to help them develop their own specialty contact lens referral hubs.
And AEG is doing more than talking. The new owner purchased an Eaglet-Eye, Eye Surface Profiler, a $26,000 instrument, to help Dr. Arnold map scleral contour with a database of lenses that he can use to help with the fitting process.
Dr. Arnold estimates that his specialty contact lens segment has been growing 5 percent annually for the last five years, with that growth unaffected by the practice changing ownership to AEG in 2019.
The professional fulfillment of serving specialty lens patients is hard to beat, says Dr. Arnold. It reminds him of why he became an optometrist. “A 28-year-old woman recently diagnosed with keratoconus was sent to me by another OD. The patient started crying when I put a diagnostic lens on her eye. She said, “Oh, my God, I can see! I can see! I’ve never been able to see with this eye.” Another patient who had had multiple previous surgeries for difficulties with his eye muscles and lids, who could not fully blink, was fitted by Dr. Arnold with scleral lenses, and now has 20/20 visual acuity. “We have a saying: scleral lenses change lives,” says Dr. Arnold. “It’s not hyperbole.”
Stronger Than Ever & Growing
Ivan Bank, OD, FAAO, FSLS
Insight Complete Eye Care
For Dr. Bank, in the work he does at Insight Complete Eye Care, “specialty contact lens patients” means corneal compromised patients with a medical diagnosis, who may no longer be able to fully function with spectacles. “These are the post-refractive surgical patients, graft versus host disease, and those with keratoconus, corneal transplants, ocular surface disease, scar tissue with induced corneal deformity, aniridia, corneal dystrophies, basement membrane disease and traumatic corneal injuries. The lens technology that is most often utilized to serve these patients are scleral contact lenses,” he says.
This is a segment of Dr. Bank’s practice that has experienced strong growth, both before and after the sale to AEG. “In 2019 we had 2,089 specialty contact lens fits. In 2021, in the first quarter, we had 658 specialty lens fits. That represents a 25.99 percent increase for quarter one 2021 over 2019,” he says. “We still see many soft contact lens patients. Routine one day spherical fits, toric lenses, and multifocal contact lenses are still a significant portion of our practice, but are considered elective contact lens patients.”
Despite the pandemic, the practice is continuing to grow its specialty contact lens services. “March 2021 was a record setting month for our office,” says Dr. Bank .”We experienced 69.85 percent growth over 2019 (without COVID impact comparison) and 72.49 percent over 2020 (with COVID impact comparison) for the month of March.”
The AEG team knows a winning formula when they see it, and has left Dr. Bank and his staff to continue the good work. “The best thing about our relationship with AEG is their astute recognition of letting us do our work and continue our growth, while relieving us of the administrative duties that have hindered us in the past. I am sure they can help us even more in the future as our business relationship grows,” he says.
Dr. Bank says AEG has been enthusiastic about having a two-way dialogue about how the practice can best strengthen its services and care: “We have shared information and the AEG team is always receptive and eager to learn. These are some very talented people with years of experience, and I know we will benefit from this relationship.”
Specialty contact services are essential for many of the practice’s patients, says Dr. Bank. “We feel fortunate to have the privilege and honor to receive so many referrals so that we may help these patients. We often hear from patients that they have been to many doctors and have never been able to see like they do after being treated at our office. It can often be an emotional experience for patients and their families. It is a tremendous reward for our doctors and staff to do our work and have such an impact on our patients’ lives.”