Advertising and Public Relations for Premium Cataract Surgery

Chapter 7

Paul Stubenbordt, BS


My friend and colleague Mike Malley with Centre for Refractive Marketing once had quite an interesting marketing experience. Mike was hired by a practice in Florida to do marketing for LASIK. After the LASIK campaign proved a success, Mike asked his client about doing a campaign for laser cataract surgery. The client turned the idea down; he said that he had other partners, and at the moment they were not interested in pursuing a marketing campaign for cataracts.

Several months went by, and one day Mike’s client called and said they were ready start a marketing campaign for cataracts. Mike asked what happened, and the client explained:

“Mike, I just had one of my longtime patients come in for a visit, and I noticed that they had had cataract surgery. I asked, ‘Where did your cataracts go?’ The patient said that they had the surgery across the street. I asked why they didn’t come to me for surgery, and the patient replied that they wanted laser cataract surgery, and we ‘didn’t offer it.’

“I was dumbfounded! I told the patient that we do indeed offer this technology, and I wished they would have come to us for their cataract removal. The patient said they heard an ad on the radio about laser cataract surgery and met with the doctor. The doctor (who happened to be a friend of mine) told the patient that we were friends, we played golf together, etc, and he could remove the cataract and send them back to me for postoperative care.

“Mike, can you believe that I’m co-managing my own patient’s cataract case? We need to get the word out now!”

Moral of the story: If you don’t advertise what you do, someone else can take your market share.

“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.”

—Steuart Henderson Britt


Marketing your practice is crucial for many reasons. The most basic reason for marketing is, of course, to grow your practice. Other benefits from marketing and advertising that lead up to practice growth include the following:

Generating new patients

Positioning your practice as an innovative leader in cataract surgery

Increasing credibility with patients and referring doctors

Retaining existing patients

Creating buzz

Advertising does not have to be an arduous undertaking. It all starts with a plan.


The most cost-effective way to market to cataract patients is by establishing a strong internal marketing program that educates your existing patients. This should include posters throughout the office, an education DVD loop in the waiting room, a customized on-hold message, quarterly patient newsletters, and expanded staff education. Beyond external advertising, internal marketing also gives your practice a solid professional veneer. With the right internal marketing efforts, the ophthalmologist in Mike’s story would not have lost his patient.


Although a marketing plan can be quite extensive, any marketing plan consists of a budget, your message (what you want to say), and your placement (where you are going to say it).

A good rule of thumb for your budget is to spend 3% to 6% of your total revenue on marketing. If your practice generates $1.5 million/year in cataract revenue, then plan to spend $45,000 to $90,000/year promoting that segment of your practice. It is important to select a marketing budget you will be comfortable with. Remember, it is an investment, not an expense.

Next, you need to decide on a message. What are you going to say? The simplest message is, “Here is what I have, and here is what it can do for you.” Any number of variations on how you want to say that can help your campaign.

Most patients who are interested in premium intraocular lenses (IOL) want to eliminate the need for glasses, particularly reading glasses. In our society, wearing reading glasses is one of the first signs of getting old, right up there with graying hair and nocturia. Today’s baby boomers want visual freedom, they want independence, they want the best, and they are willing to pay for it.



Seniors are turned off by ads that look too much like you are trying to sell something. They like educational ads that are toned down, honest, and authentic.


Seniors spend time researching major purchases and look for value in everything they purchase. Show the benefits of a premium IOL to demonstrate value.


Seniors are attracted to ads that use storytelling and emotions to drive their purchase decisions.


Older patients may remember their parents’ cataract surgery, which might scare them. Reiterate that modern procedures are fast and effective, with little to no down time.

Contact Information

Make it easy for seniors to find your phone number, website, and physical address.

Figure 7-1 is an advertisement for cataract removal and implants. I like this example for many reasons, but mainly because it appeals to that “restoration of youth” psychology that most people can relate to. Also, this ad is succinct. Long-winded messages are not memorable.


Media placement can be tricky. Just like eyes, no 2 practices or markets are alike. For example, you might be a huge practice willing to spend 12% of your revenue toward marketing, which could open up broadcast television, radio, print, and other options. Alternatively, you could be a solo practitioner who has never marketed and wants to keep marketing efforts on the conservative side. Whatever your situation, a little media knowledge can guide your decisions.


Figure 7-1. Sample of a premium IOL magazine advertisement.


Talk radio can work really well for branding a premium IOL practice. I tend to run ads during drive times, which are from 6 am through 9 am and 3 pm through 7 pm. I do this because that is when the majority of people listen. Ideally, your radio representative will give you additional fill spots for free if you spend a decent amount with a station. To get the most bang for your buck, also consider a hybrid message, with the first 30 seconds focusing on another service your practice offers, such as LASIK, and the final 30 seconds discussing cataract surgery and premium IOLs.


“As Seen on TV” is a marketing gimmick that has been used to sell products through supermarkets and retailers for years. What “As Seen on TV” does is add credibility. The idea is the same when marketing your practice. Television also has the benefit of reaching the viewer through sight and sound, which is even more memorable. With TV, you can actually visually demonstrate cataract symptoms and the visual results after cataract surgery.

Broadcast TV (eg, CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC) reaches a lot of viewers, especially during primetime, but also tends to be very expensive. The good news is our target cataract market of 55+ tends to watch a lot of daytime TV, which is much lower in cost then prime or evening television.

A great alternative to broadcast TV is cable. You can target specific geographic zones, and you can bombard consumers with tremendous frequency. Cable is great for practices with a smaller budget.


Although newspapers may be a dying medium, they tend to do very well for practices promoting cataract surgery and premium IOLs. For print ads, develop a compelling headline and include text and photos that will draw reader attention. I also like using color as opposed to black and white ads. If your practice has a distinct color scheme, readers will have instant recognition just by seeing your practice colors. Try to keep your ads in sections of the paper that are most read by seniors. From my experience, this includes the weather, lifestyle, and obituary sections. I also recommend using smaller ad sizes with more frequency rather than expensive larger ads with less frequency.

Some research shows readers equate large ads with large businesses and small ads with small businesses. Don’t be tempted to use a large ad to make people believe you’re a large business. They’ll be disappointed when they arrive at your door—and you’ll discover your ploy was all for naught.

Social Media

Who says social media is only for the young? Not only are people 65 years of age and older jumping on the Internet in greater numbers, the Pew Research Center social media update for 2014 shows more than half of all online adults age 65 and older (56%) use the social networking site Facebook, representing 31% of all seniors.1 Overall, 71% of Internet users are on Facebook, and 70% of Facebook users engage with the site on a daily basis. Now, are patients going to like their eye doctor’s Facebook page and follow your post? Probably not; however, Facebook offers some innovative ways to market to seniors. One of the biggest advantages to advertising on Facebook is the ability to target specific groups of highly engaged people based on their unique interest. You can get as targeted as having your ads appear to only those who live within 10 miles, are between 65 and 80 years old, enjoy crocheting, and are followers of Dave Ramsey. At this time, Facebook is the only social media I see valuable for reaching out to seniors.


Most of us believe we can do anything, but for advertising, it is best to use an advertising agency. If this seems out of reach, use your local media sales representative for placement assistance. One of my favorite quotes is from Red Adair: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”2


Seth Godin, one of the country’s leading marketing experts, says, “Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.”3 This connection needs to take place at every point your practice comes into contact with your patients or potential patients. Everything from your website, to how the phones are answered, to what kind of information patients received prior to their appointment, to the visit, to the discussion with the doctor, to the surgery, to the outcome, to how you treat them after they are 1-year postoperative patients—it all matters. When details are missed, patients become frustrated, and they invariably share their frustration with their friends, family members—and yes, even the co-managing optometrist who sent the patient over in the first place.

A good place to start looking at the details is by stepping outside of your own practice. Try to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. Visit your website, mystery telephone shop your own practice; step out into the waiting room and have a seat. Do you like what you see and hear? Next, have a counselor explain the difference between basic cataract surgery and premium IOL surgery using laser technology. Does it make sense? Are you pleased? From my experience, most practices think they are doing well. From a consultant’s perspective, most practices seem to struggle in certain areas. You can improve the patient experience even further by offering free Internet access, snacks, coffee, and even bottled water.


Four- and five-star hotels never hire for experience; they hire for personality. They put their staff “on show” every single day. They know that indifference is the ultimate enemy to customer satisfaction and they combat this enemy by treating everyone like family.

The following are some tips you can learn from them:

Greet patients by name when they arrive.

Hold the patient’s hand during surgery.

Arrange courtesy transportation.

Hire for personality, not experience.

Look at your practice from an outsider’s viewpoint to nail the details.

Offer free Wi-Fi, gourmet coffee, and snacks in your lobby.

Treat everyone like family.

Taking it one step further, I have even seen a practice provide food for their patient’s entire family the day of surgery, reducing the family’s number of concerns for the evening. This practice has a certain buzz about everything they do for the patient and the patient’s family.

Finally, it is a good idea to send out a survey to patients once a year. You can do this on your own by choosing 100 or so patients to send the survey to, or you can use a service to take care of it for you. Once the surveys are returned, the surgeon or administrator can use the data provided to make improvements.


For many premium cataract surgeons, the most common first experience a patient will have of your practice is the initial phone call. This is when you will really want to make a great first impression, and it is up to your staff to do so.

Start by having a friendly voice, and listen to what the patient is asking. What are his or her concerns? Is he or she a co-managed patient? How did he or she hear about your practice? For most practices, even those who are fairly successful, the telephone tends to be an area of weakness.

Improve the quality of your phone calls by doing the following:

Use a friendly voice.

Answer within 3 rings.

Never put the patient on hold for more than 30 seconds.

Have empathy.

Use the patient’s first name or something like “Mrs. Jones” to make the call more personal.

Build rapport.

Scripting and Role Playing

Practices should focus on preparing staff members by creating phone scripts. Phone scripts help employees with the flow of how a call should be handled, keep the message consistent, and will prevent employees from making guesses during various scenarios. It is recommended to use these scripts as guides until employees become more comfortable with the flow of conversation.

The best way for a staff member to become effective on the telephone is by role playing. Role playing will make the scripts sound more natural and less forced. During role-play sessions, it is good to focus on various situations, such as, “What if the patient is co-managed?” or “If he or she had LASIK, is he or she still a good candidate for a premium IOL?” The goal is to have your staff discuss cataract surgery and premium IOL options with potential patients just as if they were family members.

Do Not Educate Over the Phone; Just Get Them In

The goal on the telephone is simple: get the patient in for an exam, create rapport and trust, and prepare the patient for what to expect. It is important to listen to the patient’s concerns and address them accordingly, but do not go over all of the premium lens options, cost, and other details on the telephone. Save the details for the exam, because you will find answering questions in the office to be much more rewarding.

One way to educate patients prior to their appointment is by directing them to your website or by sending them an informative brochure on cataracts and their options. You can also send them a questionnaire, which helps them consider their needs and concerns prior to their appointment while providing the surgical counselor with important information. This way, you might be able to avoid the “deer-in-headlights” look when discussing premium IOLs and the associated costs during the office visit.


In general, people are afraid of what they do not understand. Most patients are already under stress because they have been told they need cataract surgery. Can you imagine what they go through when we throw premium IOLs at them?

Using a questionnaire prior to the patient’s meeting with the doctor will help. The questionnaire or survey is a series of questions that the patient will answer prior to his or her appointment, thus helping the surgeon determine if the patient would be better suited for a multifocal, accommodative, or standard IOL.

I have heard complaints from patients ranging from, “I didn’t know it would cost more,” to “I was told I would be able to see like I was 25 again,” to “No one told me I would have to pay thousands of dollars just to wear glasses when I read.” That is why time spent with patients improves overall satisfaction. Teach your staff to set reasonable expectations and not to make promises that can backfire.

Taking the time to explain the benefits of a premium IOL is absolutely crucial. If the patient senses the slightest amount of hesitation or urgency in the surgeon’s or staff member’s voice, he or she will begin to put his or her guard up. On the other hand, if the doctor (or staff) takes the time to explain the benefits and drawbacks and to answer any questions the patient might have, you will find a much higher satisfaction rate among your premium lens patients.


Several years ago, I was visiting a practice that had a very unhappy cataract patient. Did she have a bad result? No. Did she experience some type of abnormal pain? No. Did we put the wrong lens in her eye? No. “So…what’s the problem?” I asked.

The doctor answered, “She was mad because my practice never informed her that she could reduce her dependency on glasses with a premium IOL.” I asked what set her off, only to find out that her neighbor had had surgery just weeks after our upset patient did and was offered a premium IOL. The patient was angry that the option was offered to her friend but not to her. The patient had normal cataracts, normal corneas, and was indeed a good candidate for a premium IOL. When I asked the doctor why she was not asked, he replied, “We don’t evaluate every patient for a premium IOL.”

There is an important lesson to be learned here. Although lens selection can be challenging, deciding whether or not patients should be offered the option should never be the issue.


Figure 7-2. Premium IOL and LRI wavier form.

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Apr 7, 2019 | Posted by in OPHTHALMOLOGY | Comments Off on Advertising and Public Relations for Premium Cataract Surgery

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