Protecting Our Patients' Eyes [Andrew Bruce]

Now is the time of year to put an increased emphasis on educating our patients as to the importance of protecting their eyes from harmful UV rays. Although we as eye care professionals recognize the year-round need for sunglasses, summer time is when most consumers see the need.

For this reason, once again, it is our responsibility to inform and educate our patients as to how UV rays can be harmful to the eyes during all weather conditions. Use the opportunities we have during our time with each patient to discuss different types of UV protection that can be applied to their glasses; from a clear UV400 treatment, to photochromic, and polarized lenses. Oftentimes, patients with UV protection already in their current eyewear, whether it be a clear UV 400 treatment, or a photochromic option, will feel they already have adequate protection. However, it is important to discuss how having sunglasses with a larger lens can provide protection over a larger area than most traditional dress frames. Discuss how this helps reduce UV damage to the peripheral areas around the eyes such as protecting the eye lids from skin cancers, and preventing the formation of pterygia and pingueculae. In addition, because UV exposure has been proven to contribute to the development of cataracts and AMD, reducing the eyes' exposure to it is instrumental in maintaining healthy eyes.

Be sure to inform your patients regarding the difference between a premium pair of plano sunglasses and a pair of $10 sunglasses from the local grocery store. Remember, inexpensive plano sunglasses use poor quality materials for the lenses which, over extended wear, can create eye strain from the poor optics. In addition, the UV protection applied to these low quality products is usually less permanent. For this reason, patients can be wearing these sunglasses thinking they have the necessary protection, but as the UV protective coating wears off, the sunglasses are actually doing more harm than good. This is because the pupil dilates when dark lenses are worn, and if the lenses are not adequately attenuating UV rays, more harmful UV rays are passing through the pupil than if sunglasses were not being worn. Make sure your patients know this. Most consumers do not. This is especially important to share with parents of your younger patients. Parents will typically only purchase low cost sunglasses for their children; educate them how research has shown that 80% of our exposure to UV happens before we reach the age of 18. Since UV exposure is accumulative, now is an important time to start children on the right path to life-long, healthy eyes.

This is a great time of year to hold a sunglass trunk show; this will get some fun, summer-time energy into your office. Promote the event as much as possible, especially using social media such as your website and Facebook page (because these are free), offering a discount on sunglasses for the duration of the event. Every summer I arrange for 3 sales representatives to come for the event and each of them donate a pair of plano sunglasses for us to give away in a drawing; something we aggressively promote in our advertising and marketing of the event. We also have light refreshments available and hold the event in tents in the parking lot in front of our office. We have tons of balloons to attract the attention of passes-by and have summer-time music playing. Remember, frame reps are very busy and their calendars fill up quickly, so try to select a date well in advance to ensure your reps are available when you need them. Also, be aware that these events are not always the most profitable; either for the office, or for the rep, so I try to alternate reps instead of expecting the same reps to give up their valuable time every year. In order to maximize profitability, I try to keep marketing and operating costs to a minimum. It helps that my wife is a graphic designer and she designs great looking flyers that we hand out to all our patients, starting a couple of months prior to the event. I print them at home and pay a minimal fee to have them professionally cut down. This really helps keep our expenses low.

Although the event may not bring in thousands of dollars, the main purpose is to create a fun event for our patients that helps educate them with regards to protecting their eyes from UV rays. It also helps increase the awareness that our office is the place to go for sunglasses; not a mass retailer. The best way to capitalize as much as possible on the event is to jam pack the doctors' schedules for the duration of the event. Having patients already in the office for scheduled appointments has a major bearing on the event's success. In addition, when passes-by see the tents, hear the music, notice lots of cars parked outside the office, combined with lots of patient flow through the front door, they are curious and will hopefully come in to check out what they are missing! Also, this will occasionally get new patients in the door. Even just one new patient though the door makes the event a huge success.

If we, as eye care professionals, all make it our mission to help increase our society's awareness of the importance of protecting the eyes from harmful UV rays, over time, we will eventually succeed - even one patient at a time. 

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