Contact lens guide

The first steps

OT  speaks with optometrists about the routes patients take into contact lenses and how this journey can be made more efficient for both the patient and the practice

Graphic of eye related icons in different shades of pink
Getty/filo; Shutterstock

A patient’s route into contact lenses can begin in a range of ways, from a lifestyle conversation in the consulting room, during a natter with a member of the practice team as they browse for new spectacles, to a question when booking an appointment.

However, while patients’ initial paths into and motivations for wearing contact lenses will be different, once they have started the journey, their end goal is shared: to become spectacle-free.

Rebecca Troughton
Optometrist Rebecca Troughton
Throughout this journey it is important that patient expectations are met as at every step they are vulnerable to dropout, even before they have officially become a contact lens wearer.

When it comes to starting the conversation about contact lenses with prospective new wearers, for optometrist and ophthalmic director of Specsavers Northallerton, Rebecca Troughton, it is important to ask open questions in order to “get the conversation flowing.”

“I normally ask patients if there is a time where they wish they didn’t wear their glasses. Or, if someone has previously trialled lenses unsuccessfully, I explore what went wrong," she told OT.

“Developments in lens technologies and comfort mean many of the previous or perceived issues no longer apply,” she said.

Troughton highlighted that considering potential motivating factors for contact lens wear is key to a personalised journey.

In the consulting room, clinical lead optometrist at Lynne Fernandes Optometrists, Rebecca Donnelly, places emphasis on simply asking a patient if they wear contact lenses.

“Even if the patient has been to your practice their whole life for their eye examinations, they could still be wearing lenses fitted elsewhere or buying them online,” Donnelly emphasised.

“At the end of the consultation, I make my spectacle recommendations and eye care recommendations. I will also tell the patient just so they are aware that their prescription is suitable for contact lenses if they ever wanted to try them,” Donnelly added.

For both practitioners, raising awareness of contact lenses as an option with patients is something that is fed through the entire practice team.

“We have a television screen that we put promotional material on as well as information about the practice and team,” Donnelly shared.

More than half of patients were not offered an eye examination and contact lens appointment for the same day1

“We have some contact lens slides on this and one slide says: ‘Contact lens assessments – we fit a wide range of contact lenses, including keratoconic, cosmetic and miniscleral. If you’ve ever been told you are unsuitable for contact lenses, just ask,” she shared with OT.

Troughton observed: “Our whole team is passionate and involved in championing lenses from the first ‘hello’ through to the consulting room.”

She explained: “Contact lens updates are shared each morning in a huddle, and every eye examination concludes with a personalised recommendation for vision correction, including suitability for contact lenses and the offer of a trial.”

In February this year, CooperVision launched its Fresh Thinking campaign, a long-term initiative that is designed to support growth in the contact lens category by identifying research-led efficiencies in the patient journey.

Findings shared as part of the campaign, for which CooperVision surveyed over 500 eye care professionals (ECPs), have highlighted that for around 30% of respondents, contact lens patients make three or more additional non-chair time visits to a practice, on average, to complete a soft contact lens fit.2

I will utilise remote consultation for follow up where I feel it is appropriate so as not to bring the patient in unnecessarily

Rebecca Donnelly, clinical lead optometrist at Lynne Fernandes Optometrists

To complement ECP-led research, CooperVision surveyed patients about their expectations and found that over half of potential contact lens wearers have an expectation that they will be able to take contact lenses away with them at their appointment.3

So how do practitioners ensure that expectations are managed and the patient has access to contact lenses in an efficient yet safe way?

Informing and streamlining

When it comes to meeting patient expectations, preparation is key for Troughton, Donnelly and their practice teams.

“Preparation is crucial,” shared Troughton, explaining that her practice will always have a fully stocked trial bank and her team will always perform a comprehensive pre-trial assessment, meaning no patient journey to the practice is wasted.

Rebecca Donnelly
Optometrists Rebecca Donnelly
“Pre-visit questionnaires are utilised to identify those patients who want to explore their contact lens options, and pre-orders of appropriate trial lenses can be organised,” she added.

Similarly for Donnelly, it is important that the practice has the appropriate lenses ready for the fit.

“It just adds another appointment for the patient if you don’t and uses more time in the diary,” she highlighted.

A helping hand

Once a trial is underway, Troughton acknowledged that some patients may experience hurdles in the initial stages of contact lens wear, but by ensuring the practice team is available to support patients across a range of channels, this can be navigated together.

“Being accessible to patients how they want and when they want is key,” Troughton explained.

Donnelly emphasised that if a patient has to wait a few weeks to see an ECP, they will drop out.

“I will utilise remote consultation for follow up where I feel it is appropriate so as not to bring the patient in unnecessarily, especially for patients who are existing lens wearers to the practice and we have changed prescription/lens modality.”

Ultimately, presented with all of the information, it is the patient who makes the decision to trial contact lenses or not.

Being accessible to patients how they want and when they want is key

Rebecca Troughton, optometrist and ophthalmic director at Specsavers
However, this does not mean the patient will not be apprehensive or nervous about the unknown.

As part of its Fresh Thinking research, CooperVision found that 84% of patients did not feel confident on the day of their first contact lens appointment.4

When it comes to ensuring the patients feel supported into the trial and beyond, Troughton said online resources are invaluable.

“There is a wealth of material on our website. Like any new skill, there is a lot to take in initially,” she shared.

Donnelly and her practice team ultilise videos on lens handling, application and removal, as well as hard copy instructions and a handout of the dos and don’ts of contact lens handling and hygiene.

“We all learn differently so we need to cover all bases,” Donnelly shared with OT.