Presbyopia can be a shocking and frustrating occurrence in the busy, productive, and fulfilling lives of today’s patients. But presbyopia has historically been a challenge for ophthalmologists as well, due to the limited number of optimal solutions for treatment that were previously available. There are currently more presbyopia-correcting procedures than were available even 5 years ago; however, conversion rates are still rather low, as practices have failed to adapt to this consumer segment. One way for surgeons to achieve a high level of success with this largely untapped market is to take the time to better understand the patients who make up this group.
THE NEW FRONTIER
The global market for presbyopia currently includes 1.7 billion people—typically between the ages of 40 and 60 years—and it is expected to increase to 2.1 billion by 2020, according to a 2011 Market Scope analysis.1 Many opportunities exist for ophthalmic practices to treat this growing number of patients with presbyopia, and this population has the disposable income to afford the services that they want and need. Recent data show that people between the ages of 47 and 65 years represent nearly 50% of all consumer spending (Figure 1), and the spending power of those over age 50 years is estimated to be in the trillions by 2015.2 In most cases, this spending power greatly simplifies our financial discussions with presbyopic patients.
However, this market also comes with a unique set of challenges. In the past, practices have been limited to presbyopia solutions such as reading glasses, monovision contact lenses, monovision LASIK, and multifocal and accommodating IOLs that do not meet the needs of active presbyopic patients. Patients have been left looking for effective, reproducible, and appealing surgical options to enhance their quality of life. A practice should not be afraid to make changes to the services it offers; new technologies can be used to reengineer the direction of the practice to better meet the needs of this patient group and leverage this opportunity for patient care.
UNDERSTANDING TODAY’S PRESBYOPE
Low penetration rates for presbyopia solutions are caused not by difficult economic times but by a lack of understanding and connection with the presbyopic population. These patients are different from the young patients surgeons typically see for refractive surgery and the elderly patients typically seen for cataract surgery. Nevertheless, surgeons tend to default to using the same methods to discuss presbyopia treatment, and these will not be effective or successful in this population.
We have heard from various practices that patients often say something similar to the following: “Unless you have experienced presbyopia, chances are you just don’t get it.” That is because, overall, ophthalmology practices have not marketed to this group effectively in the past. With increasing patient demands, it is more important than ever for practices to understand the differences in how patients with presbyopia make decisions, how they view the world, and what practitioners can do to provide them with an optimal surgical experience.
Some patients with presbyopia present with a long history of spectacle and contact lens use; others have never needed correction and find that reading glasses or contact lenses are intrusive to career, travel, and outdoor activities. Many of these presbyopes view themselves as fit and feel about 10 years younger than their chronological age.3 Research shows that, overall, people in this population are satisfied with their lives, are ambitious for an even better future, and are optimistic about their achievements. Unfortunately, advertising campaigns often depict presbyopes as older individuals. This portrayal can come across as offensive because presbyopes yearn to be self-reliant, but they are also beginning to feel they are losing control in some areas of life.4
In a market survey of more than 200 individuals with presbyopia,5 respondents reported that the loss of near vision was a significant and emotional event in their lives—the first sign of aging that they could not hide from the world. Additionally, respondents reported that visual symptoms interfered with everyday activities such as shopping, sending text messages, seeing the time on a watch, and reading a menu. Respondents also noted that they disliked reading glasses and, despite owning several pairs, could never seem to find them. Moreover, many presbyopes noted that wearing reading glasses made them feel like their parents and made them look old, perhaps triggering a loss of self-confidence and a desire for the vision they had in their 20s.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SHOWS
In an analysis of social media output from July to December 2011, it was found that people who are contemplating eye surgery do extensive online research. Specifically, they look for personal reviews and testimonials that can be used as tools to formulate their own purchase decisions. These consumers tend to invest significant time into this avenue of research and are highly likely to take findings to their doctor for discussion. Additionally, patients with presbyopia do not mind paying a premium if they feel that the true cost is warranted.2
Research also shows that this target consumer (ie, aged over 40 years with a highly disposable income; upper middle class/middle class demographic) is intelligent, responsible, and autonomous. Interestingly, people in this group are often early adopters of new technologies, and many own a tablet device. Approximately 79% of presbyopes use the Internet, and this group constitutes 41% of the Internet population, according to a Pew Internet Study.6 This group is also more likely than the general population to spend 5 to 9 hours a week surfing the Web, regularly visiting news, property, weather, travel, sport, health, business, and price comparison Web sites.7
Overall, this generation steers clear of unnecessary complexities and frills and mostly uses technology for learning, entertainment, and communication. Research indicates that review sites and blogs are primary sources of information for this group and that videos on YouTube are often used to check out a clinic or a particular surgeon. At this time, the average Facebook user is female and 38 years of age or older, signalling a significant opportunity for practices to connect through this channel. Our survey also found that the average prospective patient in this age group who searches online uses generic terms, such as alternative to reading glasses or laser eye surgery.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PATIENT INTERACTION
Another facet of understanding the presbyopic population is realizing that, because these patients desire genuine connections, the emotional content of a practice’s Web site is crucial. Furthermore, the practice’s social media involvement, which should remain separate from the practice’s Web site, is also important. It is helpful for doctors and other clinicians to get involved with the nuances of social media. For example, they can think about how they would search for a service, or perhaps ask a friend or family member what he or she would search for. This will allow the clinician to better understand the prospective patient’s situation and approach.
Patient testimonials, which are available and searchable online, also play a role in attracting prospective patients to a practice. Search engine optimization using common words in patient testimonials and popular and related search terms can be utilized to drive the Internet-researching prospective patient to advanced presbyopic solutions.
Having real patients tell others about their journey— from the research stage to the initial consultation, and into surgery and beyond—creates positive emotional content that consumers view as credible. Testimonials might include anecdotes with humor, sadness, passion, or heroic triumph. Keep in mind that consumers are increasingly savvy to companies that pay for product endorsements. Therefore, creating searchable content from genuinely happy patients adds significant value to the marketing mix. Searchable content that links to genuine, positive testimonials and customer journeys creates believable emotional information.
DELIVERING WHAT THE PRESBYOPE WANTS
After cultivating a better understanding of today’s presbyopes and understanding exactly what they are looking for, practices should develop a plan to meet the presbyope’s unique needs. Remember, research shows that these patients expect customized services with speed and convenience, and, most important, they like to retain independence and autonomy.2 Therefore, make it simple and pleasant to visit your clinic. See Catering to the Needs of the Presbyope for a few tips.
This active and intelligent patient group will continue to make major life decisions for their families and themselves for years to come. As such, they expect to receive quality information about modern procedures and services. More important, these patients want to be treated with respect and not made to feel like they are being slighted because they are aging. Patients with presbyopia can ask tough questions, but they often look to a practice to confirm that they are making reasonable decisions. Once confident in his or her decision, a patient with presbyopia will gladly pay for treatment.
The time and effort spent understanding and connecting with this diverse patient population of presbyopes will be well spent. Developing a presbyopia-specific strategy for patient care provides an opportunity for a practice to develop lasting relationships with patients in this age group.
Although this is a lot of information to take in, transitioning a practice to better meet the needs of the growing market of today’s presbyopes is advisable. Make a commitment to the idea and the challenge of initiating the changes discussed in this article. For example, come up with a list of just three things you can do this week and then take action. Start today.
Verity Cash is Associate Director, PR and Social Media, at Bray Leino Vivactis, a consumer communications agency in the United Kingdom. Ms. Cash may be reached at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Ready is Vice President, Marketing, AcuFocus, Inc. Ms. Ready may be reached at e-mail: email@example.com.
- Market Scope, LLC. 2011 Global Presbyopia-Correcting Surgery Market, report.
- Green, Brent. Generational Reinvention, How Boomers Today are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse.com; 2010.
- Ashi Corp. 2007 Survey, sample size:1,736 M&F.
- AARP Life State Study, 2002 – 2004. http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/boomers_midlife_2004.pdf. Accessed March 29, 2012.
- Acufocus: Market Study of Presbyopes. Data on file with AcuFocus.
- Pew Internet Study & American Life Project, 2010. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Generations-2010. aspx. Accessed March 29, 2012.
- TGI 2011. http://kantarmedia-tgiie.com/client-section/republic-of-ireland-tgi-2011/. Accessed March 29, 2012.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a four-part series on presbyopia. Upcoming articles will cover how to cater to the presbyope, how to counsel the presbyope, and the rules for advertising to the presbyope.