Optometric Management Tip # 143   -   Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Emergency Symptom List for Front Desk

I received several emails following my last tip, which was about charging more for emergency visits. Several colleagues requested my list of emergency symptoms to assist receptionists in judging the urgency of eye problems. The list is printed below.

Itís a good idea to meet with your staff periodically to discuss the emergency nature of certain ocular symptoms, and how these calls should be handled. Many factors will influence this, such as the availability of a doctor in your office every day, how tightly the practice is booked, and your desire to treat various medical eye problems.

If you want to increase the emergency care aspect of your practice, consider telling each patient that you examine that he or she should call your office if they ever have an eye emergency. Many patients routinely think they should call their primary care physician or go to a hospital emergency room, when your office may be a better alternative. You may even want to print a handout or magnet card with common eye emergencies and what to do about them as a patient give-away reference.

Itís tempting to simply tell receptionists to work-in any caller who says they are having an urgent eye problem, or is concerned enough to want to come in immediately. This is a good practice, but it does not solve all the responsibility of the practice. There are two scenarios where this approach alone is not ideal:
  1. A caller does not request an emergency same-day appointment, but has an urgent problem and does not know it. Waiting for the patient to ask for an emergency appointment is not good enough if the patient does not know that sudden flashes of light is a concern.
  2. A caller who demands an emergency same-day appointment, and is squeezed into a very full day, only to find that the chief complaint is a scratch on the eyeglass lens. Some people will push for their own convenience. While this scenario is disrupting to the office Ė itís better to see a false emergency than to not see a true one.
Here is a guide to emergency symptoms that will help a staff member prioritize appointments. It is not all-inclusive and you may want to add or delete some symptoms.

Post at front desk

We should ask every patient who calls for an appointment: ďAre you having an eye problem?Ē (some appointments are for routine check-ups). If yes, ask the patient to describe it and listen to the patientís level of concern and use your judgment. Ask a doctor or technician if youíre not sure. This office sees all patients who are having an urgent eye problem the same day. Try to give a specific appointment time that is soon and appears to work best with the schedule. If all appointment slots are full, just tell the caller to come right over, and we will work him or her into the schedule. Advise the patient about the exam fee and the payment requirements over the phone.

Emergency Symptoms (Work patient into todayís schedule or page the doctor on call. A referral to the hospital emergency room should be considered if no doctor is reached).
Best wishes for continued success,

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