Contact Lenses on the Internet

The contact lens market has vastly changed in the last 20 years. Older OD's remember the days of single vial (not "vile") non-disposable soft contacts selling for hundreds of dollars per vial...contacts that were only available from their office. They were so expensive that many OD's offered "contact lens insurance", which they also conveniently sold from their office. Over the years OD's made a lot of money from contact lens sales, and rightfully so; the OD's were and are the contact lens experts. Multiple events since those days have changed the way contacts are sold: the advent of disposables, the invention of silicone and daily soft contacts, and most recently the explosion of internet commerce. I did some research last week and figured out that I could literally order my son's contacts from an unnamed contact lens vendor and have them shipped to him in Dallas where he attends college CHEAPER than I could buy him boxes at my cost and mail them to him USPS myself. That's an eye-opener (so to speak) for sure. So it's happened: there is now little or no money to be made by an OD selling contacts from his/her office. These online retailers smartly buy in bulk, hash out deals with the lens manufacturers for special pricing, and otherwise have relatively low overhead. THE ONLY BEEF I have with them is: they're supposed to be verifying the Rx with the RX'ing doc, and many of them try very hard to skirt that requirement. I won't go through all the ways they fill Rx's w/o verifying, but let's just say they're rather sneaky sometimes. OD's can partially be to blame too, they often purposely make it difficult on these companies to verify. It's not a pleasant relationship. But I try not to take it out on the patients. Why hold disdain for a patient who asks for their Rx to buy online? I don't get that. I'm not making any money off the sale (or very little), so why not let them buy elsewhere? We "stock" some contacts here - the big sellers - mostly for convenience to our patients. Our prices are competitive...but not as cheap as online. We can't match those prices b/c we can't buy in bulk and we don't have enough buying power to get special pricing from the manufacturers. So why even bother having contacts here at all? B/c when you figure out that you've ripped your last lens and your daughter's wedding is TOMORROW, and you don't want to be seen in all those photos wearing your 5 year old glasses. Or when you run out of contacts right before your baseball tournament. Sometimes you don't have time to wait 4-6 days for contacts. But this is the real world here. We know we can't really compete with the online retailers in COST anymore. They've got us beat (not by a lot, usually, but still beat). Therefore I am never, ever offended when a patient asks for a copy of their contact lens Rx to buy them online. And I'm ashamed at some OD's who only release a contact lens Rx begrudgingly and with attitude, lectures and contempt. Who cares? It's likely $5 (or less!) profit per box we're talking about here. That's $20 profit on an ANNUAL supply of monthlies. Is $20 annual profit per patient worth guilting the patient into buy contacts from you? I personally don't think it is. Heck if it bothers you that badly, raise your exam fees 20 bucks. I do admit that I get annoyed by contact lens retailers who I know are selling contact lenses illegally to patients with knowingly-expired Rx's and even NO Rx's...but the patient who is in your office asking you for a copy of their Rx is not one of those. Be kind: release the Rx w/o making the patient feel guilty for asking. It's the right thing to do.


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