By Eric M. White, OD
Optical sales begin while the patient is in the exam chair–with doctor-driven dispensing. An attractive optical with a great selection completes the picture.
After patients are finished with their exam, many are eager to head out the door. If they have only been in your office a short time, they will be glad to get out earlier than expected so they can head to the park or catch up on their errands. If you’ve kept them for more than an hour, they will be so irritated they will head directly to the door simply because they’ve had enough. Either way, getting patients to stick around and shop in your optical dispensary following their eye exam often isn’t easy. If their eyes are healthy and their vision sharp, or their prescription unchanged, why would they? That’s where you, the doctor, come in. As the doctor, we have the ability to explain to patients the products sold in the optical dispensary that can benefit them. Patients allocate a set amount of time to visiting your office. To ensure that they don’t cut short their time in your dispensary, begin the eyewear discussion while patients are seated in the exam chair. Here is how I work with my staff to ensure patients stop and shop in our dispensary before heading home.
Importance of Doctor-Driven Dispensing
I feel the most important element that determines whether the patient stays to shop is doctor-driven dispensing. It is important for the doctor to prescribe what the patient needs–and every patient needs something, even those who are young with 20/20 vision. If the doctor takes the time to do this they will be more apt to get the hardware from you instead of shopping elsewhere. Our patients stick around to shop because I take the time to tell them what they are getting and why. If they say they are going to take their prescription out the door, it gives me a chance to win them back and explain what they will get for their money if they buy from us, and why these products are important. I know some doctors say these conversations take too long, but I feel the extra couple of minutes helps me keep the patient and get the best product for them.
THREECONVERSATIONS TO HAVE WITH PATIENTS DURING THE EXAM
Having the conversation: Plano sunwear
Patient: young person with no need of vision correction. I would discuss hobbies and outdoor activities and explain why the patient could benefit from polarized sunwear: “Sandy, it’s great that you’re able to get out to your family’s lake house so often for boating–it sounds like a lot of fun! I wanted to let you know about about the polarized sunwear we sell that is perfect for people like you who spend a lot of time in the bright sunlight near the water. These sunglasses I am prescribing cut down on glare allowing you to see better and more comfortably, but they also protect your eyes from the sun. It is important you take precautions to protect your eyes from the sun while you are still young. Doing this will help lessen the chances of you developing cataracts and diseases like macular degeneration later in life. Our opticians will be glad to show you all the polarized sunwear we have available.”
Having the conversation: No Rx change
Middle-aged person with a progressive eyeglasses prescription that hasn’t changed:“Steve, I’m glad your prescription has stayed stable. I wanted to let you know, though, about the anti-glare computer eyewear we offer that our other patients have really liked. The glasses make it easier to do detailed work for a longer time in front of a computer. They would be perfect for you since you mentioned that you sometimes work in front of a computer for up to 12 hours a day. So, I am prescribing anti-glare computer eyewear for you today, and will make sure our opticians walk you through the eyewear selection process in our optical shop.”
Doctor Education of Patient Makes Price Understandable
Patient understanding and acceptance of pricing goes back to doctor driven-dispensing and why it is so important. We have the prices on our frames, but the lens price is different, of course, and an added cost. I talk to patients in the exam chair and tell them what I am prescribing and why. I go over the material, AR and Transitions, along with the possibility for multiple pairs and contact lenses.
I know the prices the patient will find in our optical shop on the frames is not the main determinant of the total price of the eyeglasses. The lenses, including all of the treatments on those lenses, is the primary driver of cost behind a pair of glasses, so I explain what each of the lens features I am prescribing will do for the patient: “Melanie, this anti-glare lens I am prescribing is great because it will deflect glare helping you in ways that will surprise you–like driving at night–and will even make the glasses look better on you in pictures–with no reflection coming off of them. The Transitions I also would like to add is important because the lens changes to either a darkening tint (standard Transitions) or a graduated polarized tint (new Transitions) allowing them to serve as a form of sunwear so you don’t need to worry about carrying around a pair of sunglasses on days when you are wearing your glasses.”
Understand Your Patients and Have Opticians Direct Them
We are in a primarily middle-income area. We have some high-end and some low-end frames, but most of our selection is somewhere in the middle. We have about 700 frames in inventory and yet we still have patients asking “Is that all you have?” I feel it is important to have a great selection, but I feel the most important thing is for your staff to feel comfortable with what you have and where it is so they can direct the patient instead of the patient directing them. When my staff starts the conversation with patients, they say “I know what would look great on you,” and can then easily direct patients to that area. By being in charge it is easy to direct the patient and get them to select a frame instead of having them wander helplessly through the dispensary.
For example, for a patient who already has a primary pair of eyeglasses and a utilitarian backup pair, an optician might say: “Jennifer, these cat’s eye glasses are fun and I think the shape would compliment your face. Even though you have your contact lenses, it’s nice to also have a pair of fun glasses to dress up an outfit with and change up your look. We also have some frames available in fun colors–even red and blue! Do you want to try on a few pairs? Sometimes you really need to see it on you before you can see how great it would be. You might be surprised how much a new pair of glasses can change your look.”
For a patient who has been prescribed a pair of computer eyewear: “Luke, we have just the low-key styles you said you like–these frames blend into your face and they’re very lightweight so you can easily wear them all day at your desk and even wear them to meetings. The frames are very minimal so from a distance it’s hard for people to even see that you’re wearing glasses! They’re a great option for a person who just wants a reliable pair of easy-to-wear glasses.”
Comfortable Office and Happy Staff Go a Long Way
My old office had a tiny dispensing room in the back, but the office I have now has the dispensary right up front and it is very appealing and inviting for patients to come in and browse. The shop has plenty of mirrors and chairs. If the patient doesn’t feel comfortable they won’t stay to shop no matter how great your inventory and staff. The presence of many mirrors puts patients in a fashion mindset emphasizing the important fashion accessory that eyewear is. This is important as many patients are more likely to want to spend money on what is perceived as a fun fashion accessory than they are to want to spend money on what they see as a medical device.
I also feel the most important thing is for the staff and me to be happy. Patients tend to spend more money when they are in a good mood. Remember to project a cheerful personality to patients–even on days when you may not actually feel that happy, and train your staff to do the same. When hiring opticians, consider the importance of a happy, fun-loving personality that patients will enjoy spending time with. If you or your staff is unpleasant, that is just one more reason to rush out the door.
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Eric M. White, OD, is the owner of Complete Family Vision Care in San Diego, Calif. Complete Family Vision Care was named 2013 Transitions Academy Practice of the Year. To contact Dr. White: Emwhiteod@aol.com.