By Optometrist Scott Brown, Clinical Director at Scotlens

Orthokeratology, or the various abbreviations or brand names of it, are a fundamental barrier to patient understanding of what it is. “Ortho-k” is even becoming a too generic and inappropriate word for us to use in the industry.

I believe it is time to drop “Ortho-k” as our common term, as it confuses patients and is actively holding back what many patients feel to be a truly life changing correction.

The term “Night lenses” does the opposite to “Ortho-K”. It helps communication, grows awareness and presents patients with optometry’s answer to laser eye surgery in a simple way. Most importantly, it energises patients interest in optometry and can put word-of-mouth sales through the roof.

Having fitted and promoted “Ortho-k” for over 20 years I’d like to share the results of our night lenses test and present a case to the optical industry for why we must stop using “Ortho-K”, and instead switch to “Night lenses”.

Time to go Dutch and make “night lenses” mainstream

“Night lenses”, a phrase coined originally by Dutch manufacturers who called them “nachtlens”, is the non-optometric terminology that the public ‘get’, which is fundamental to it becoming a common term. The unusually high night lens penetration figures in the Netherlands are proof that it works.

“Laser eye surgery” not “Photorefractive keratectomy”

The public have never heard of “Photorefractive keratectomy”. But they all know it. They see it advertised and can remember it well enough to discuss it with friends and ask about it at their eye exams. Because they know it as “laser eye surgery”.  The laser eye surgery industry is far smaller than optometry, yet everyone knows it because the simple terminology makes it memorable and communicable.

“Photorefractive keratectomy” = “Orthokeratology” / “Ortho-k”

The public have never heard of “Orthokeratology” or “Ortho-K”. If they see it advertised, like “Photorefractive keratectomy”, it means nothing. They don’t understand it. They can’t remember it. They don’t discuss it with friends or ask about it at their eye exams.

Neither do they understand “CRT”, “EyeDream”, “Nocturnal”, “Bloom”, “REMlens”, “DreamLite”, etc, the other confusing names we fire at them. Because they are all different types of night lenses, with their own specific features.

Similar to “Variofocals”, “Night lenses” enables better peer communication

I am now fitting custom optic diameters and measuring spherical aberrations to monitor myopia and minimise axial length growth. Discussing these patients, or the lens design, as “ortho-k”, is too generic a term. I should now communicate more accurately with peers:

“Miss Smith has been wearing night lenses for almost a year, she is fitted with A Brand, with a 5.50mm OZ.”

We do this already:

“This patient has been wearing varifocal for years, currently A Brand, short corridor design.

“Varifocal” is another common term that came into use as the public didn’t understand PAL or Progressive Addition Lenses, the original name for varifocals. Similarly, you don’t buy “dentin hypersensitivity” toothpaste, “Sensitive teeth” became the coined term for the same reason.

September 2021: we dropped “Ortho-k” for “Night lenses”. Sales shot up!

Despite dramatically enhancing patient’s lives for 20 years now, Ortho-K has never taken off. I know my patients love ortho-k. Clinical studies also show nearly 70% of patients prefer it to specs or soft lenses, so something is fundamentally going wrong.

In September 2021 we dropped “Ortho-K” and called them “Night lenses”. “We” being myself and my colleagues as optometrists, Scotlens as a manufacturer and our optometrist partners.

Everything changed overnight: the exciting fresh social media content was read and shared heavily, walk-in sales started to happen and sales shot up.

Night lenses - orthokeratology ortho-k sleep contact lens - boy pool ad

The answer was hidden in plain sight

Yes, even I didn’t see it! I’ve communicated ortho-k to patients well since I took over my dad’s patients when he retired 20 years ago. My dad was an optometrist, and as the founder of Scotlens pioneered some of the UK’s first ortho-K lenses in the late 1970’s, so I grew up with these lenses. Persuading patients to try them has always been easy for me.

But despite patients saying, “I keep telling people about them, you must be getting lots of new customers!”, in 20 years virtually nobody came in asking for “ortho-k”. We struggled to market them. We desperately needed something to fuel the word-of-mouth influence. The moment we stopped using Ortho-K and used “Night lenses”, we found that ‘thing’. It was a game changer.

1. Game changer: public awareness

The power of the night lenses term was demonstrated not long after I started using it. I had a short cab ride in London with a typical chatty cabbie:

Cabbie: “So what are you up to today, Guvnor?”

Me: I’m going to talk to opticians about night lenses.

Cabbie: Night lenses? What’s that then?

Me: Contact lenses you only wear at night, so you don’t need specs or day lenses.

Cabbie: I ‘aint never heard of them! They sound amazing!

Excitement, knowledge, a potential sale, and someone who can now share them with others in under 10 seconds. That would never happen using “Ortho-k”.

2. Game changer: test room

This also happened:

Me: “The options to correct your sight are spectacles, day lenses, either daily where you throw them away after one day or monthly where you use them for a month, or night lenses…”

Patient interrupts: “where you just wear the lenses at night and don’t need anything during the day?”

Again, this NEVER happened using “Ortho-k”. For patients it changes the perception of specs, day lenses and night lenses to be roughly equal.

Manufacturers finally have a category to hang their brands under

As a lens manufacturer I want my brand to be recognised as being the market leader. “Can I have a Coke?” is synonymous with the brand Coca-Cola. “Hoover” with vacuums. The goal is to make sales easier.

However, with night lenses, there is a disconnect between customers and consumers. The customers of the lens manufacturers are the optometrists [or other ECPs], who in turn then supply their patients, the consumers. Brand is irrelevant to the consumer as they follow the recommendation of their trusted ECP.

To create consumer demand manufacturers need to promote the concept, not their brands, just as they do in the laser eye industry.

Those offering laser eye surgery never put their brands in place of the category:

– “Optimax: freedom from glasses and contact lenses” doesn’t make sense.

– Their adverts are always: Laser eye surgery: freedom from glasses and contact lenses” with their brand at the end.

For years night lens manufacturers, of which I am one, have been pushing their brand as a category (“Nocturnal: freedom from glasses and contact lenses”) to the detriment of the growth of the category (“Night lenses: freedom from glasses and day lenses”).

Coopervision, Menicon, X-Cel, Precilens, REMlens are now all starting to use the term ‘Night lenses’ and the hashtag #nightlenses on their promotions. This collective effect will make night lenses mainstream and awareness will explode:

scotlens - Ortho-k manufacturers using night lenses

The public will soon know ‘night lenses’ like they know ‘laser eye surgery’

With only around 2% public awareness of “Ortho-k” the last 20 years, but “Laser eye surgery” close to 100%, it’s clear that once they are mainstream the public will know “night lenses” like they know “laser eye surgery”. From what I’ve witnessed the past 18 months, I truly believe it will happen by the end of 2024.

New kids on the block

Important to note that Scotlens has first time night lens fitters who are instantly getting more new patient fits than adjacent established ortho-k practices who have been doing it for decades.

Are these new fitters better doing anything differently clinically? No.

Is it massive marketing budgets? No.

Better equipment? No.

The only difference is their staff and patients’ lips have been loaded with “night lenses”. They have an easy term they can say, and, crucially, share on social media. Simply by presenting patients with the choice of specs, day lenses or night lenses in an easy-to-understand way, the sales come naturally: - orthokeratology ortho-k contact lens - freedom - swimmer caps

For the last time… who would be busier, a surgeon offering “photorefractive keratectomy” or the one next door offering “laser eye surgery”?

The message is simple: drop ‘Ortho-k’

As an optometrist who has fitted Ortho-K for 20 years, I can tell you categorically that using “Night lenses” makes life easier. By not dropping Ortho-K you’re unnecessarily holding yourself back. It doesn’t make sense.

Still don’t believe me? Try it. Use “Night lenses” instead of “Ortho-K” with your next patients and see what they say. I can guarantee you that you’ll never go back. Even if you don’t fit night lenses, try it! I bet the reaction makes you realise your patients would want night lenses.

Join the #nightlenses revolution!

And while we are at it, can we get a different word for astigmatism!! 😊

About the author

Optometrist Scott Brown is the Clinical Director of Scotlens | Custom fit contact lenses.