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Feature Review | Previous Articles
February 2005


Growing the Australian Contact Lens Market (GACLM)

Brien Holden
Scientia Professor, UNSW
Deputy CEO, Vision Cooperative Research Centre, Sydney, Australia

BAppSc, LOSC, University of Melbourne (1964); PhD, City University London (1971);
Doctor of Science, honoris causa: University of New York (1994), Pennsylvania College of Optometry (1998), City University London (1999), University of Durban-Westville (2002).
Judith Stern - B. Optom, UNSW, Sydney, Australia

Judith Stern graduated with a Bachelor in Optometry from the UNSW in 1997 and worked in private practice for two years. She was a senior research optometrist at the Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit at the University of New South Wales, Sydney until 2004. Judith is currently the Program Director for Business Growth at the Vision Cooperative Research Centre.


Development of silicone hydrogel lenses is the biggest breakthrough in the contact lens industry for 30 years. The positive attributes of these lenses have the potential to create a loyal patient base and transform contact lens practice. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that practitioners see contact lenses as more time consuming and ‘difficult’. In a recent poll on this website, respondents nominated profitability as one of the main barriers preventing them from recommending silicone hydrogels to their patients.

In a landmark study published in the 1991, Tony Hanks demonstrated the benefits of taking a proactive to contact lens business. Hanks took two groups of 50 patients and in one group only offered contact lenses if the patient initiated interest, and in the other group the practitioner raised the topic of contact lenses. In the first group, only 2 patients initiated interest in contact lenses resulting in one fitting and one dispensing whereas in the other group, contact lenses were discussed with all patients resulting in 11 fittings and 10 dispensings. Subsequent studies have confirmed these results. In 2000, the Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers (ACLM) in the UK showed that 19% of practitioners discussed contact lenses only if the patient asked about them, and 74% discussed contact lenses only with patients they considered suitable.

Importantly, earlier work by Hanks and others has shown just how much more profitable contact lens practice can be. Hanks found that contact lens patients brought in 2.2 times more fees, 3 times more new patient referrals, and had 4 times less attrition resulting in a 4-fold increase in practice growth over spectacle wearing patients [1,2].

Growing the Australian Contact Lens Market

The GACLM Program was designed by the Vision Cooperative Research Centre (Vision CRC) and the Institute for Eye Research (IER) and was funded by the Contact Lens Industry Council (CLIC) of Australia, to address the slow growth of contact lens sales in Australia. This pilot project provided training and support to 20 optometric practices in the Sydney area in an effort to increase their practice’s contact lens activities and their profitability.

The program concentrated on addressing communication and business management skills and encouraged practitioners to see more of their patients as potential contact lenses wearers, and also to seek out opportunities for patients who may only want lenses occasionally for specific purposes – for example, for sport, or for cosmetic reasons or social events.

Training was provided for eyecare practitioners and their staff, including selling and communication techniques, lens fitting, record keeping and patient management; and management consultancy services were established to provide ongoing support.

The program targetted the whole practice, with both optometrists and support staff attending workshops and taking part in training exercises. Program staff also conducted site visits, and held focus groups to bring practitioners together to learn from each other. Ongoing support was provided to all practices, via telephone and email contact to answer queries and provide updates.

The Results

On average there was 50% growth in contact lens sales compared to the Australian market average. In addition practitioners in the pilot program prescribed 13% more new fits than the Australian market average [3].

Sales increased almost immediately, just because of the increased awareness, and continued to increase as practices gained confidence and expertise in the communication and business management skills we were teaching.

Successful practices were pro-active and multi-tasking – they offered their customers a full range of vision options, and used their practice staff effectively to enhance their productivity. Simple changes in practice attitude and systems had an enormous effect on practice profile and profitability.


A willingness to try new things and expand one’s capabilities are key factors in a practice’s success. The misconceptions that contact lens patients take longer to manage and may be ‘difficult’ occur when contact lens profitability is judged on a single transaction rather than over the life of the relationship with the contact lens patient. Keeping patients informed of the latest advances in technology and up-to-date with the full range of options available for vision correction are cornerstone to developing strong practitioner-patient relationships. Simple changes in practitioner attitudes and practice management systems can have an enormous effect on the profitability of an optometric practice.


[1] Hanks AJ, 1988. The practice viability of contact lenses versus spectacles. Contact Lens Spectrum, 3(5): 43-46

[2] Hanks AJ, 1989. The practice viability of contact lenses versus spectacles. The Optician 197(5194): 23-24

[3] Woods CA and Morgan PB. 2002. Contact lens prescribing in the Australian states and territories 2001. Clin Exp Optom, 85:279-283.

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