Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet at all costs, you’ve probably seen an abundance of ads for new contact lens subscription services. These companies market their lenses on being convenient and affordable, targeting patients directly instead of going through the normal doctor-driven prescribing and dispensing channels. We sat down with Dr. Ryan Corte, an optometrist practicing in the growing metropolitan city of Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn more about why patients are increasingly interested in subscription contact lens services, and how we can best discuss the issue with our patients at their yearly eye exam.
In addition to practicing optometry and being a new dad, Dr. Corte is the founder of IntroWellness, a health and wellness website that is focused on patient education. He has found that today’s patients are educated and informed consumers – they research medical care decisions and healthcare products extensively online before coming in to see a doctor to get their opinion. Knowing patients were seeking more information about online contact lens subscription services, he decided to put himself in the position of a patient and sign up for four of the most popular online disruptors on the market: Hubble, Waldo, Sight Supply, and Aveo. The investigative journey led to him to not only learn more about the marketing behind each company and the process that patients experience when using a subscription service, but he also created a review of his experiences outlining what patients need to know from the perspective of medical professional for his website.
Dr. Corte ordered contact lenses from four of the most popular online contact lens subscription companies. Three e based in the United States; Waldo is based in the UK.
The first disruptor to market for online contact lens subscription is also the most well-known. Dr. Corte share that a few of his patients have asked him about online subscription contact lenses, and all of the those that have specifically asked him about Hubble.
Material: Methafilcon A
Manufactured in: Taiwan
This UK based subscription service was founded by Harvard graduate Ashleigh Hinde.
Material: Etafilcon A
Manufactured in: Taiwan
This company offers both spherical and toric daily disposable lenses, as well as FreshRx their own contact lens prescription renewal service.
Material: Omafilcon A
Manufactured In: Malaysia
This company has teamed up with newly rebranded Visibly (formerly Opternative) to offer online contact lens prescription services for their lenses.
Material: Etafilcon A
Manufactured In: Taiwan
To research his review video, Dr. Corte ordered lenses from all four of the above online contact lens disruptors with the ultimate goal of not only being better informed about the patient experience these companies offer for patients, but also to help provide information to the broader public so that consumers could make a more informed decision before signing up for these subscription contact lens services.
Dr. Corte noted many common themes in the marketing messages of each of the four companies he subscribed to. Of note, all of the companies are founded not by optometrists but by contact lens wearing patients with marketing and business backgrounds that saw opportunity to disrupt the healthcare system. The language used in branding and marketing for each company is very patient-focused, avoiding a discussion of the technical aspects of contact lens design or oxygen transmission and focusing more on consumer-focused language concerning convenience and price. The topic of ocular health is mentioned as a selling point of why daily disposable contact lenses are the model of choice for each of these services (a conversation that many patients will recognize from their last visit with their eye doctor since many of us have embraced a similar message about daily disposable contact lenses and their benefits of reduced risks for eye infections over the last decade).
Of interest is that in the fine print of the contact lens packaging and the FAQ sections of each company’s website, you’ll see statements pointing consumers to seek their doctor if they are having any issues with their contact lenses. Contact lens doesn’t fit right? Wake up with a red eye? Not a manufacturer problem; you should see your doctor.
Another big take away from Dr. Corte’s research was that the FTC’s Contact Lens Rule is very loosely enforced and complied with. The Contact Lens Rule requires that anyone selling contact lenses must contact the prescriber via direct communication or facsimile, and that the prescriber must be given 8 hours to respond during their normal active business hours. For three out of the four companies that Dr. Corte signed up for as a patient, he never received prescription verification at his office. The one company that did send a verification did so via an email sent over the weekend, outside of his offices’ business hours, leaving him no time to reply before the prescription was filled.
What Can We Learn?
In addition to better understanding his patients’ experience as contact lens consumers, Dr. Corte took away a lot of valuable information about how these companies successfully market to and attract patients that he plans to use in the exam room. Shipping contact lenses to a patient? What would you rather receive: a basic cardboard box or a sleek package with attractive colors and branding? Studies have shown that the psychology of opening a box is a key draw for why subscription box services are successful – receiving those monthly boxes activates our reward and pleasure-seeking centers of the brain in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area.
Dr. Corte encourages all of us to think about branding and marketing ourselves to our patients. “Why do you do what you do as a provider? People are looking for that genuine human connection.” Focus on the patient’s experience at your office. Looking at contact lens education specifically, Dr. Corte makes sure he spends time educating why he prescribes a certain contact lens brand and material and that he presents new technology every year even to patients that report they are happy with their current lenses.
He cautions providers not to assume that the patient is wearing the lens you prescribed last year. A great way to start the conversation without causing uncomfortable confrontation? “Last year we prescribed XX brand contact lenses. What’s been your experience?” It’s an invitation for patients to tell you about their real lens experience and get discussions going about how you can help make improvements.
What if a patient asks you about an online contact lens disruptor? Firstly, don’t miss the fact that if a patient is asking your opinion, that means they value and trust your insights. This is a great sign that you are fostering relationships with your patients that will keep them coming back. How should you answer your patients’ inquiries? Dr. Corte encourages doctors to focus on the technology differences and the value you provide as their doctor. “[Tell them] this is a new start up company, but the contact lenses are designed with outdated technology. You have superior products that you can get for them at the same price or better. Your lenses can keep them wearing their contact lenses longer and more comfortably, and keep them seeing better.”
Even if they try the inferior contact lens disruptor product this year, they’ll be back seeking your care and advice if they’ve been educated about the differences.