At A Glance
- Marketing can be one of the best or worst investments a practice can make, based on how the dollars are spent.
- Glaucoma represents a huge opportunity for ODs because it is advertised far less often than other services despite the fact that the profession has the expertise to care for patients with this disease.
- The annual income generated by two glaucoma visits per year can be well above the national average for a patient seen only for refractive services one time per year or, worse, once every 2 years.
Worth $24.7 billion in 1960, the US health care market was recently valued at a staggering $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person.1 In optometry, many factors influence what slice of this pie we receive, including our practice setting; which insurance plans our practices accept; the number of patients we see on a given day; and which services, treatment options, and medical devices we offer. I believe that, to increase our patient base, marketing can be one of the best or worst investments our practices can make, based on how the dollars are spent. With that in mind, I would argue that we should be marketing our glaucoma services.
WHY MARKET OUR GLAUCOMA SERVICES?
Industry and other providers are spending big to influence patients’ decisions on health care. From 1997 to 2016, overall spending on medical marketing increased by more than $12 billion, and direct-to-consumer marketing represents the largest category of this increase.2
The top three results of a simple Google search of local eye care providers are generally eyeglass and contact lens retailers, LASIK centers, and providers of cataract surgery and multifocal IOLs. The reason, I suspect, is that these areas represent cash-pay income potential for practices, and they largely reflect the marketing emphasis of eye care providers in this country.
We optometrists have a duty to better market our medical services, particularly in glaucoma. This subspecialty represents a huge opportunity for us because it is advertised far less often than other services despite the fact that we have the expertise to care for patients with this disease. These individuals are typically seen twice per year. They undergo visual field testing, advanced imaging such as OCT, and fundus photography. Pachymetry readings, electrodiagnostic studies, corneal hysteresis measurements, and gonioscopy are often required as well. Depending on which tests are medically necessary, the yearly income generated by two yearly visits can be well above the national average for a patient seen only for refractive services (Table).
How can we attract patients with glaucoma to our practices? One idea is to begin with internal marketing. This approach has doubled my practice’s yearly glaucoma-based revenue, and the campaign focused on just four points:
No. 1: Diagnostic Technology
“Glaucoma in the family? Our technology finds it fastest!” My practice lets patients know that, if they have a family history of glaucoma, we have technology that can detect the earliest signs of vision loss. We highlight our OCT, electroretinogram, and visual field testing capabilities.
No. 2: A Caring Approach
“Glaucoma drops making your eyes red and irritated? Let us help you!” Many patients with glaucoma also have ocular surface disease—often caused or exacerbated by their IOP-lowering drops. Letting them know we can help manage both conditions has been a draw for many patients.
No. 3: The Latest Therapeutic Agents
“Brand-new once-daily glaucoma medicines approved by the FDA are being prescribed at Hazleton Eye Specialists. See if these drops can better control your glaucoma.” Several new topical glaucoma medications have entered the market. We let our patients know that we offer products that may better control their disease.
No. 4: Alternatives
“Drop-free glaucoma treatment is now being offered. See if you are a candidate!” Topical drops are not the best form of treatment for every patient with glaucoma. My practice has teamed up with a provider who performs selective laser trabeculoplasty and other procedures, such as Xen Gel Stent (Allergan) implantation, and we let patients know about these alternatives and our ability to offer them with a comanaging surgeon.
A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE?
As optometrists, we may find it awkward or unsavory to advertise services for patients with glaucoma, but this approach has been used by the medical profession for diseases such as cancer for many years. Our patients with glaucoma deserve excellent care, and that is what we can deliver. It is time we let them know it.
1. National health expenditure data: historical. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. December 18, 2018. bit.ly/CMS1218. Accessed June 26, 2019.
2. Schwartz LM, Woloshin S. Medical marketing in the United States, 1997-2016. JAMA. 2019;321(1):80-96.