Specialty Lenses Add “Snap” to the ECP Playbook

By Judith Lee

Like the special teams brought in for kick-offs and kick-off returns during a football game, specialty lenses and coatings have one job to do and they’re expected to do it well. And just like the kicker, holder or long snapper, when specialty lenses come into play, Eye Care Providers (ECPs) say their performance often is critical to winning patient loyalty.

“We recommend computer glasses and separate driving glasses to the majority of patients simply because when you explain the advantage the need becomes apparent,” said Robert Sobotor, licensed optician and optical industry consultant who fits about 80 percent of patients with some type of specialty lens or coating.

Sobotor is at the high end for percentage of patients fitted, but many ECPs agree that most patients have a need for at least one specialty lens or coating.

“We try to recommend computer lenses to nearly everyone, since most people are using digital devices for many hours each and every day,” said optician Amy Endo.

“REcharge antiglare is now our standard recommendation on all lenses because everyone is looking at computer and digital device screens,” said Melanie Melancon, OD.

■ What is “special”?

Even though a majority of ECPs recommend specialty lenses and coatings to patients, there is no consensus about what “specialty” means in eyeglass lenses.

“Define ‘specialty.’ I usually apply that term to contact lenses. Most commonly for specialty glasses we mean computer glasses,” Dr. Melancon said.

“Anything that isn’t a plastic lens we call a specialty lens,” said Dawn Rakich, OD. She noted that she strongly  prefers Trivex as a lens material, and presents this to patients as a specialty lens no matter the purpose of the lens.

As categorized by the optical industry, a “specialty” lens is any lens that is prescribed for a specific purpose rather than general use. In other words, computer/digital device lenses, reading lenses, driving lenses, sports lenses (golf, shooting, boating), sports safety lenses, occupational lenses.

There is one trend that could be undermining the specialty lens category. Several ECPs noted that improved progressive lens designs and digital freeform technology may be eliminating the need for some specialty products.

“Zeiss Individual iscription lenses offer one of the best designs on the market. Because the lens is so good, our patients don’t need a separate pair of lenses for the computer. We have had patients report very good clarity with it and have even had some migraine suffers feel better also. We also like Hoya ID Lifestyle,” noted Krister Holmberg, OD.

John Seegers, MEd, a licensed optician, said he prefers to use standard progressives “fit high” for computer use: “We do not recommend computer or digital device lenses. I wanted to embrace the market but have never found a good success rate with any of the lenses.”

■ Go-to products

ECPs indicated that they succeed better when they recommend a lens design, coating and material all designed to provide the best solution for the individual patient.

“My go-to products are Trivex, AR, computer glasses, and driving glasses. I do a majority of my work in drill mount frames and like Trivex over polycarbonate because polycarbonate means bad optics, soft material, crazes around the drilled holes because there is not inherent stability in the lens material against common chemicals and other known issues. Trivex gives me cleaner optics and doesn’t get loose in the mountings with wear. A high quality AR is a must for any higher index and a must as far as aesthetics are concerned and a must as far as optical considerations go regardless of material for night driving,” Sobotor said.

Endo, who said about half of the glasses she dispenses are specialty eyewear, also has a “recipe” for success: “Varilux S Series - the images focus instantly, so there is less amount of blur, and they feature ‘4D Technology.’ With computer lenses, we always recommend Crizal Prevencia or Sharper Image Techshield.”

Coatings are strong as add-ons and getting stronger.

“Every patient is offered anti-reflective coatings (particularly premium ones) in our office,” said Dr. Holmberg. “I talk about blue light and polarized sunglasses with most patients and think that works well in the exam room since there are eye health implications. Our AR rate is usually around 50 percent but this year it is 64 percent. I'd like it even higher, but we are trending in the right direction.”

Endo said that educating patients about the new realities of our digital world has boosted their sales of “blue blocker” lenses.

“For blue light, I go over why blue violet deflection ARC lenses are important in our digital world. Patients don’t know that blue light lenses help protect your eyes from harmful Blue-Violet light in everyday surroundings including sunlight, indoor lighting, and most digital screens,” she said.

Endo uses information from optical lab websites and brochures to educate patients about long-term eye protection.

“I teach patients of all ages that we need to be vigilant in protecting our eyes. I am really happy that I can offer polarized gradient single vision lenses,” Endo noted.

ECPs said they are open to new products but have not always succeeded.

“We don't recommend the colored blue blockers because people are more vain than health-conscious,” said Dr. Melancon. “We've even had a few exchanges to Super High Vision EX3 because they don't like the brighter reflex.”

Seeger observed that patients trying something new can be fraught with risk for the eyecare practice.

“I have even GIVEN away computer lenses or ‘office progressives’ hoping for great feedback but I have never gotten it. No matter how much we train or educate the patient on what to expect they seem to somehow not ‘get it’,” Seeger said.

■ What they want

Overall, ECPs are looking for specialty products that provide the benefits patients look for in general use eyewear.

“We want great, quality optics, and a variety of available materials so we can meet the specialized needs,” said Shephali Patel, OD.

“They have to provide good optics and appearance,” said Dr. Rakich.

“In computer lenses, I'm looking for comfort and ease-of-use with the patient.  The lens shouldn't make them sick to use it, and they should see a definite improvement over their progressive lenses,” noted Dr. Melancon.

Each ECP has encountered unusual patient needs, and these must be accommodated as well. One patient of Dr. Melancon’s was a pilot, and he wanted to be able to look up to see his instruments and not have to lift his glasses like his co-workers did.

“I knew about the double D occupational lenses and we contacted our lab about them. We could have Rxed them for the patient, but he changed his mind when he got the price quote,” she remembered.

Sometimes a patient’s specialized need is combined with an unusual prescription, calling for an unusual solution.

“I had a customer that wanted his distance Rx on the top and plano at the bottom. He had a different Rx in each eye and cylinder. He said that he had asked others to do it but they never understood what he wanted. I hand-crafted exactly what he wanted using two Rx lenses cut in half and a plano lens cut in half,” said master optician Seeger.

Dr. Patel, who is Dr. Holmberg’s partner, said their office has had unusual requests from musicians and electricians, but their lab had no problems accommodating the orders: “It was more of a challenge on our end to get the focal lengths right.”

Most ECPs seem satisfied that optical labs already offer adequate specialty products and technology. But they say labs could do more in terms of package pricing, customer education and product sampling for dispensers.

“I believe package deals tend to increase value in the eyes of the purchaser. I also find that the idea of offering them a package, regardless of whether they get it, also increases the value of what we have to offer. If a lab is willing to absorb some or all of the costs, then of course that piques our interest -- especially if they have promotional material we can use,” Dr. Holmberg said.

Point-of-purchase materials, sample products, and product comparisons all are key to making specialty sales.

“For example, look at Maui Jim’s polarized lens displays,” said Sobotor. “You don’t even have to speak when the patient puts on a pair and the ‘magic’ enables them to see a colorful display.”

Dr. Holmberg believes labs would benefit by providing specialty eyewear for ECPs to wear in the office: “Patients appreciate it if an optician and/or doctor tells the patient that they wear the product they are selling, that they love it and can express what they found beneficial in the real world. It sounds more like a personal recommendation than a sales pitch. If an optician/doctor doesn't have to pay for the lenses then they are more likely to wear them.”

He recognized that “free” products can be abused, and has a system in place to make sure offers from labs are handled fairly among the staff.

“We keep things fair among our employees (limits jealousy) and also between us and the lab. I believe that this type of thing needs to be mutually beneficial to be worthwhile,” he noted.

Overall, ECPs regard specialty lenses as an important business opportunity for themselves and the optical lab -- and an important strategy in their patient playbook.

“There’s a simple logic,” said Sobotor, “that until you meet or attempt to meet every need your patient has, you haven’t really done your job.”


Labtalk June 2020