Rick Weisbarth, OD, FAAO, Alcon’s vice president, professional affairs, has been with the company for more than 36 years—starting at CIBA Vision, which became the eyecare unit of Novartis in 1996. Novartis then acquired Alcon in 2011. In this interview, he discusses several of the company’s recent initiatives.
Jeffrey Eisenberg: Alcon announced several initiatives recently, such as the Patient and Practice Experience Team. How will the team work for doctors?
Rick Weisbarth, OD, FAAO: The eyecare landscape is increasingly complex and difficult to navigate, with forces external to the practice and demands inside the practice. We believe we can partner to help improve patient experiences, patient outcomes and practice outcomes. This new team will serve in a consultative role to help practitioners and their employees understand how they can improve patient and practice outcomes and stay competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. So, they’ll have a role apart from what traditional salespeople do within a practice.
JE: Alcon also plans to significantly increase its investment in hands-on multifocal contact lens training.
RW: By the year 2020, there will be 1,800 presbyopes for each practitioner. That’s a huge number, yet today, the majority of multifocal contact lenses are being fit by only 13% of the practitioners.
In our mind, that spells opportunity to help drive patient satisfaction. We are more than doubling our efforts to train practitioners on how to improve patient outcomes and their success rate with multifocal contact lenses.
We’re doing that through a number of different initiatives. One, is we have a program in which we bring practitioners to the Alcon Experience Center in Fort Worth, and we share with them the tips and techniques that we’ve learned to enhance fit success. We also have a program where we take the training to practitioners and do the training in their offices. We refer to that as the Multifocal Fit Training Road Shows. And, we provide hands-on experience showing the practitioners how easy it is to fit multifocal contact lenses.
JE: There is now so much competition for doctors from alternative sources, which also raises safety concerns.
RW: One point we always make is we would love to see the contact lens market grow. We want to see it grow responsibly, lawfully and with the eye practitioners in the loop. We want responsible growth — not growth for growth’s sake.
JE: Alcon launched U.S.-specific packaging for AIR OPTIX plus HydraGlyde. How does this tie into patient safety?
RW: This is the second such initiative that we have launched. Last year, we announced new packaging for DAILIES AquaComfort Plus. The new packaging features more specific instructions to improve patient outcomes. Specifically, on the AIR OPTIX plus HydraGlyde packaging as well as the DAILIES AquaComfort Plus packaging, we have illustrated instructions for wear and care. We have a 1-800 helpline and an email address that patients can contact.
We also have the U.S. flag and the wording “For sale in the U.S.A. only” on the packaging. There are a number of reasons for that. Specifically, we believe that it’s important that patients who do purchase our products get them through a reliable source. Patients are best served when our products are transported, stored and distributed through clear and reliable channels, which can only be achieved when our products are sold through authorized customers and distribution channels.
JE: What else will help grow the contact lens marketplace?
RW: We believe that there’s no better way to wear contact lenses than a daily disposable. When you look at the growth of daily disposables, it is the fastest growing category in the U.S., but the U.S. still is way down the line in terms of the percentage of daily disposables that are sold, compared to other countries.
So, last year, we launched the DAILIES and AIR OPTIX Choice Programs to increase patient awareness and education of one-day and one-month replacement contact lenses and to help reduce financial barriers.
Additionally, we believe patients should receive an annual comprehensive exam, so we want to drive patients into practices so more can experience the benefits of these lenses. We have all these initiatives and want to help practitioners to harness them. While they are separate initiatives, it’s all tied to improving patient outcomes, and practice performance.