Missed opportunities? Contact lens experts weigh in on gaps in consumer knowledge

October 17, 2022
Troubling misinformation and a startling lack of information: two observations from an industry group’s latest survey into U.S. consumers’ contact lens knowledge. What’s more, eye care providers may be missing opportunities to discuss contact lens options with 2 out of every 3 patients. How can optometry close the gap?
Contact lens experts weigh in on gaps in consumer knowledge

For 45 million Americans, contact lenses are their vision correction modality of choice. But according to new survey results, there may be quite a few more people who could benefit from them.

Per April 2022 survey results published by the industry association representing contact lens and contact lens care product manufacturers, the Contact Lens Institute (CLI), eye care providers (ECPs) missed vital opportunities to discuss contact lens options with as many as 2 out of every 3 patients. Among 1,000 surveyed U.S. adults requiring vision correction, only:

  • 11% recall contact lenses discussed as an occasional alternative for glasses.
  • 8% recall contact lenses discussed as a replacement for glasses.
  • 4% recall contact lenses discussed as a replacement for reading glasses.

Additionally, the survey detailed a widespread prevalence of misinformation about contact lenses among consumers that could come back to harm their vision and eye health. So, what does that mean for optometry?

AOA Focus asked members of the AOA Contact Lens & Cornea Section (CLCS), CLI board members and expert panelists from a CLI webinar titled “Revealed! New Consumer Data Shows What’s Holding Back Your Contact Lens Practice” to respond to the report’s findings. Here’s what they had to say.

The survey found that people ages 18 to 34 were three times more likely to rely on social media for information about contact lens wear versus the total population, and 3 out of 5 adults sought alternative information sources, such as friends or online searches. How might this be a risk or, conversely, an opportunity?

“At this moment in time, it’s clear that more and more people are going to social media and other online resources to seek information of all types, so it’s natural that individuals, especially in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, are looking for information and recommendations about contact lenses online. Of concern is that over the past few years, we have seen questionable contact lens retailers use online platforms to sell contact lenses that may not have been prescribed for the patient. The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission in their action against Hubble Contacts noted that the retailer had used false testimonials online to sell their products. When it comes to regulated medical devices, this kind of misinformation can be very damaging to the patient’s overall health. This is a significant concern of mine, yet there also is a considerable opportunity. Many of my patients tell their friends and families about their positive experiences in my clinic after I’ve cared for them. We have so many innovative advancements in contact lens technology, and I’m always excited to share this information with patients. Many times, they pass along the information to friends and family. I think doctors should realize that even in this world where everything is online, nothing compares to an excellent face-to-face conversation between a patient and a doctor who truly cares for them.” -Melissa Barnett, O.D., AOA CLCS immediate past chair

The survey found that 1 in 5 adults definitively stated that contact lens brands are interchangeable, and 3 out of 5 adults may not check with their eye care provider before switching brands. How do we as a profession counter misinformation about contact lenses?

“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and contact lenses are no exception. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many unscrupulous companies deliberately use misinformation to not only sell more contact lenses, but also perpetuate the view of contact lenses as commodities. These companies, of which direct-to-consumer retailers are often leading the charge, would like nothing more than to see the entire contact lens industry deregulated, allowing our patients to purchase contacts in the same way they purchase reading glasses. Knowing that a regulatory framework focused on keeping the public safe is critical, the AOA works tirelessly to support patient safety-focused regulations. We as a profession need to take the opportunity to gently educate our patients on the risks contact lenses can present if not worn properly, while also balancing our message to the tremendous benefit they can have on quality of life. Educating our contact lens patients on this topic can take time, but just like educating on risks of disease, can pay dividends for their eye health down the road.” -Paul Velting, O.D., AOA CLCS chair

The survey indicated the public may lack a general awareness about contact lenses, with 44% saying they are unsure if contact lens brands are essentially the same and 46% saying they are unsure if all contact lenses use the same general design. Knowing that chair time is precious with patients, how can doctors maximize their patient education on contact lenses in such a limited time?

“Regarding contact lens education, I’ve found that having a printout of contact lens do’s and don’ts is a great way to get information to the patient that they can reference later in case they forget. Although you do want to educate the patient during the exam, I think most patients will forget what they’ve heard as soon as they leave the exam room. Instead of having the patient call into your office with a question or, worse, use Dr. Google, I think it’s better to spend the time to make an information sheet for the patient.

“When talking about contact lens design, I tend to give my reasons for why I’m prescribing a certain lens. I think this becomes memorable especially if you’re giving your reasons for why you’re switching someone off their current contact lens brand. I’ve mentioned the differences in silicone hydrogel versus hydrogel, difference within silicone hydrogel and hydrogel materials, diameter and base curve. Another way is to let the patient become more involved in choosing their lens. I’d suggest providing two options that you think the patient would do well in, discussing the differences between the two and then letting the patient choose. This lets the patient know that there are differences between brands and makes them more likely to consult their optometrist before switching brands in the future.” -Klaus Ito, O.D., CLI 2022 Visionary and webinar panelist

The survey found only 7% of patients recall hearing about new advancements in contact lenses despite some very significant advancements in recent years, and 66% stated that none of these topics were raised. Where might a doctor turn for this kind of information, and how can they use information about new advancements to encourage new fits or existing wearers to try something new?

“Data, like the survey results shared by the CLI, allow doctors to be aware of these areas of opportunity, which ensure that these patients receive information that they seek, directly from their doctors. Keeping up with the newest advancements across the eye care industry is an exciting challenge because this allows practitioners to demonstrate yet another valuable part of a regular, comprehensive eye exam to their patients—the ability to connect new technology to their patients’ individual needs. However, it does force doctors of optometry to keep abreast of what is new, like technology that may not have been available last year or even last month. The best way to learn about these new advancements is from the manufacturers themselves, whether it’s from the sales reps, non-CE education programs or by visiting the industry booths at conferences. Based on how doctors prefer to consume new information, there are also different ways to learn about new products and services through journals, podcasts, virtual events and even through emails, such as the ones we receive from the AOA and state associations. Encouraging patients to try new technology is usually the easiest piece of the equation; the difficult piece is keeping it top of mind for the practitioners during their busy day, and a great way to accomplish this is by engaging staff to initiate the conversation.” -Charissa Lee, O.D., Johnson & Johnson Vision, CLI Board Member

“Information about the latest developments in contact lenses is available from sales representatives, as part of seminars offered by manufacturers and in the exhibit hall at conferences and trade shows. In most cases, eye care practitioners already have information about new advancements in contact lenses and it’s more of a matter of the ECP sharing the information with their patients. Increased patient communication is the key. In my experience, many doctors hold the belief that if it isn’t broken, don’t mess with changing it. However, comfort, vision and/or handling will most likely be improved with newer products. As ECPs, we want our patients to have the best contact lens-wearing experience possible.”-Rick Weisbarth, O.D., Alcon, CLI Board Member

The survey identified that eye care practitioners are missing opportunities to talk about contact lens options with 2 out of 3 patients. How do you approach the contact lens conversation with patients?

“As a contact lens advocate, I’m grateful to have so many innovative options for patients. I am always thrilled to share what’s new with patients. I recommend embracing novel technologies, understanding the details of each type of new contact lens, and then sharing that excitement with your patients. I also never stop asking my patients if they are interested in contact lenses, even those whom I’ve seen for years who are happy in their glasses. Sometimes my spectacle wearers may mention that they just took up pickleball or hiking, or want the freedom that contact lenses allow, and that’s a fantastic opportunity to share how contact lenses can be an excellent alternative to glasses. It starts with an ongoing love of eye care to provide customized options for each patient.” -Melissa Barnett, O.D.

“Mention candidacy for contact lens wear after the refraction on most, if not all, of your patients. If you wait for your patients to ask about contact lenses, you’re missing out on all the patients who stay quiet because they believe they aren’t a candidate due to something as simple as having astigmatism.” -Klaus Ito, O.D.

“This data shows us there is much consumers don’t know about contact lenses, presenting an opportunity for eye care professionals to talk with their patients. Nearly 7 out of 10 (68%) people turn to their eye doctor for contact lens information. This reinforces the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

“How can they maximize it? Make it part of every conversation, every time. Make it intentional. It doesn’t need to be a long part of patient interaction—maybe just 30 seconds. Also have staff mention contact lenses and display materials provided by contact lens manufacturers to spark an interest. Let it be known that you are a contact lens fitter. Many patients don’t realize that contact lenses may be an option for their vision correction. There is often an assumption that if the doctor doesn’t mention them, then it must not be an option.

“Why is it important? Facilitating conversations can have a positive impact on clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and practice growth. Everyone wins as a result.” -Rick Weisbarth, O.D.

“The biggest opportunity for doctors is taking the time to discuss the latest advancements with their patients. Most often, the assumption from the patients is that the doctor will bring up the available options, so it is a huge opportunity for doctors to create a great patient experience by offering contact lenses as an option. For example, the staff could initiate the conversation by asking all patients during their pre-tests, “Have you ever thought about contact lenses as an option to see clearly, in addition to glasses? If so, ask the doctor if you are a candidate.” This allows the patient to proactively start the discussion with the doctor and opens the door for the doctor to talk about fantastic new technology available in contact lenses, particularly as patients’ visual needs have changed over the last two years. As doctors, we have the unique opportunity to manage how our patients see and connect with the world, and contact lenses offer another opportunity to further enhance patient lives and give them independence that they didn’t realize they could have.” -Charissa Lee, O.D.

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