Optometric Management Tip # 128   -   Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Silent Signal Lights

Did you ever miss an important phone call because you were in the exam room with a patient? Has your staff ever tried to let you know that you have a call, only to create an awkward moment as you excuse yourself from the patient youíre examining? Hereís a simple answer that has worked for me for years.

In every exam room, I have a small red glow light mounted on the wall behind the patientís chair, which is turned on and off by a light switch located in the business office. This easy-to-install and inexpensive device has served me well for years, because the patient does not know that Iíve been signaled. Hereís how it works.

If Iím needed for any reason Ė an important phone call or something happening in the office Ė the receptionist or office manger just flips the switch that controls the light in the appropriate room. The light stays lit, and I canít help but see it when I look at the patient. Now that I know Iím needed for some good reason, I can excuse myself from the patient for any reason I come up with. I may be nearly done anyway, and Iíll just let the receptionist wait a minute (she knows Iíll be out soon). Or, it may be time to dilate and Iíll tell the patient that my assistant will instill the drops and Iíll see him later. I may tell the patient I need to re-verify the Rx in his old glasses, or I need another instrument, or whatever Ė anything is better than being called out for something more important.

If youíre working toward building a practice thatís based on excellent patient service and higher fees, the patient wants to feel like he or she is most important. When an assistant knocks on the exam room door and asks you to step out, or calls you on a phone or intercom, or buzzes you in some way, the patient knows he is secondary. It may be minor, but it reduces the experience a little bit.

If youíre even a little handy with mechanical things, you can install these lights yourself with a trip to Radio Shack. Just tell the salesperson what you have in mind and he will fix you up. Youíll need low voltage wire, the glow light fixture, colored lens and light bulb assembly, and possibly a cover plate to allow you to install the light onto drywall. Youíll also need a small plug-in transformer. You will run the low voltage wire from the transformer to the switches in the business office to the lights in each exam room. If you have a suspended ceiling, this should be easy enough, and then you will drop the wire down inside the walls in between the wood studs. Another option is to just hire an electrician.

Itís a good idea to meet with your staff and set up advance ground rules about when you want to be called out of an exam. There may be specific people who are always put through, and various rules about patients and other doctors calling. Also, I like to let my staff know day by day whenever Iím expecting a specific call and want to take it to avoid playing phone tag.

You may find a commercially available office light signal system (even wireless ones) that will do this for you also, but those are often geared toward calling a technician, or doctor to a room more than calling someone out of a room, and they may have a chime or beep to get the signal noticed, which I donít want in this case. And, in my personal situation, I donít have a need for a total office light system because I use scribes in the exam room and never have to call one to the room. As a side note, our doctors are notified that a patient is ready to be seen by use of a standard vibrating pager (see tip #2 at the past tip archive at www.optometric.com).


Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management