Dispensing can be a professionally satisfying and profitable aspect of optometric practice, so it’s an area worth exploring as you contemplate the direction you’d like to take in your career as a doctor of optometry.
Dispensing refers to the act of selling eyewear or contact lenses within your practice. Here is an introduction to some of the basic definitions and issues you’ll face in the area of dispensing.
Types of dispensaries for optometry practices
In-office—The in-house dispensary should be attractive and well-lit, feature a number of large and small mirrors sufficient for the foot traffic, and offer a fitting table and a wide selection of current, fashionable eyewear.
Separate—A dispensary separate from your professional office could generate higher income by increasing its visibility to patients and attracting walk-in patients. The décor should resemble that of an optical shop and can feature attractively dressed display windows.
Boutique—A boutique dispensary centers on high fashion, offering top-of-the-line eyewear. Boutiques often focus on and cater to one market segment, such as young adults or career professionals. The boutique needs a visible location with catchy signs, attractive display windows and at least 650 frames on display.
Displays—Displays can attract patients and potential patients to your dispensary and ultimately to you for other professional services.
- Show at least 500 frames in a private practice dispensary and 650 frames in a boutique or separate dispensary.
- Create lifestyle displays, using separate displays for leisurewear, sunglasses, sports eyewear, children’s frames and designer fashions.
- Use different areas of the dispensary to highlight top-of-the-line, medium-priced and no-frills or budget eyewear.
- Display discontinued frames for economical or budget-minded patients somewhere in your dispensing room.
- Update displays every one to three months.
Purchasing—Maintaining a competitive range of frames means making a substantial financial outlay, but you’ll need to be a smart shopper with a keen awareness of trends in eyewear fashion. Ask frame representatives and distributors what is selling and why. Before you buy, consider cost, durability, availability and quality of frames and lenses. You may choose to simplify the process by purchasing all frames from a single source or create a varied display by purchasing frames from multiple sources. Last, your state association may participate in a statewide buying group. By purchasing through the group, you may save dollars in your practice and can provide additional support for your state association. Call your state association to check on buying groups in your area.
Dispensing frames and managing your frame selection—It’s unwise to oversee an optometric dispensary and not have a systematic way of managing your frames. Systems include filing frame-order sheets in a master file, while computerization can be valuable by helping you with this process and with the other methods of managing the frames in your dispensary.
Pricing frames—The price of your frames depends on many factors, including your basic cost, your overhead, local economic conditions and prices charged by the competition.
Effective dispensing techniques—You’ll probably assign the job of dispensing to an assistant. Choosing styles and colors can be time-consuming for your assistant or the patient, so be sure to keep current on your dispensary’s selection, carefully select the first frame you show to patients and take all the time necessary to let patients choose.
Dispensing contact lenses—Full-scope optometric care includes the dispensing of contact lenses. The challenging issues with contact lenses primarily revolve around professional judgment regarding the best modality for each individual patient. However, complex contact lens patients quickly realize the value of competent, professional care and are willing to pay the fees associated with complex contact lens care and management.
Recommending contact lenses—There is tremendous value in practitioner recommendations. Proactively mentioning contact lenses as a vision correction option can generate interest. Because virtually every prescription is available in a contact lens design, offering contact lenses as an option should be made at every opportunity. Supplementing spectacle wear with contact lenses offers patients additional vision care options.
Presenting fees for contact lenses—Typically, contact lens patients must return to the practitioner’s office at more frequent intervals than spectacle-only patients. In all situations, the contact lens fee presentation must be clearly explained to avoid confusion.
Offering service agreements for contact lenses—Often a service agreement benefit offers patients contact lens replacement at a reduced rate compared to usual and customary fees. The service agreement can be an optional purchase, and often it is expanded to include professional services, reduced fees for Plano sunglasses, a second pair of glasses and care products.
Training staff for contact lenses—Developing a well-trained professional staff reduces the time necessary to introduce and explain new modalities and options available to patients. Some of the additional testing necessary for contact lens patients can be delegated to technical support staff with the confidence that you can reliably depend upon the data.
Scheduling for contact lenses—Additional time is necessary for contact lens evaluations, fitting or refitting. It is wise to allow time in your daily schedule to work in contact lens rechecks and emergencies.
Prescribing contact lenses—Deciding to diagnostically fit contact lenses or to order empirically depends upon the availability of diagnostic lenses and the level of comfort practitioners feel about a specific modality. Choosing to stock only core or more frequently needed powers and designs help reduce the storage space needed and the staff time required to order lenses.
Offering supplies and care products—Deciding to inventory contact lens solutions for sale to patients primarily depends upon several critical questions. Practitioners must decide if it is helpful to patients and if it is profitable.
There are pros and cons:
- Patient convenience and benefit.
- Assures compliance with recommended care products.
- Availability to bundle materials and services.
- Encourages incremental purchases when patients return more frequently to the office.
- It helps solidify patient loyalty.
- Minimum profitability.
- Staff time required to monitor inventory.
- Excessive office space required to store solutions.
- Possible insufficient motivation for patients to return to purchase solutions.
Building a practice with contact lenses—Differentiating yourself by developing a specialty practice that offers contact lenses assures your success. Patients, willing to pay the professional fees, are very loyal and are great referral sources when they are successful with their contact lenses.
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Changes in coding and reimbursements worth knowing. Meanwhile, with the clock winding down on 2024, the AOA continues to press for Congress to act on reforms that would give doctors of optometry an annual, permanent inflationary Medicare payment tied to the Medicare Economic Index.
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