Optometric Management Tip # 264   -   Wednesday, February 07, 2007
What if you break the patientís glasses?

A colleague emailed me to ask how I would handle a situation that recently occurred in his office. He thought it might make a good topic for a Tip of the Week article and I agree. Here is his story:

A patient who had left my care secondary to ďinsurance changesĒ came back to my office after two and a half years. She asked for an adjustment on a pair of glasses which were over a year old and not purchased from us. Additionally, the glasses were a drill mount with progressive lenses and very badly damaged from the patient ďrolling over on themĒ. So, because we are nice, my office manager tried to adjust them and of course the lens broke. Then, of course, it was our fault; the patient was mad and claimed no responsibility. You can imagine the rest.

We have probably all had similar situations occur in our offices at some time. Cases like this provide valuable opportunities for staff training. We can look at this situation in two ways: how to prevent it and how to handle it when happens anyway.

How to prevent it

In my view, when we accept a pair of glasses for adjustment or when we agree to make new lenses to fit an older frame, there is an implied responsibility that we will return the patientís property in the same or better condition as when we accept it. In cases when your office canít or wonít accept that responsibility, the burden is on your office staff to explain that to the patient in advance and determine if the patient wants you to proceed with the work even when no guarantee is provided.

There are many legitimate reasons to use a disclaimer and inform the patient that your office will exercise great care, but that breakage is possible and that you canít guarantee the outcome. The disclaimer can be in writing or verbal. I use a written form that the patient signs whenever we accept a patientís old frame for new lenses. The form and more details are available in Tip 126.

If I were accepting a pair of glasses for adjustment or repair, I would make the determination of responsibility on the spot. The important thing is to inspect the frame and lenses in front of the patient and point out any defects before taking it out of the patientís sight.

If the glasses were covered under our practice warranty or if the adjustment were simple, I would proceed with no disclaimer. I like to have optical policies that are patient friendly. We want to be easy to do business with. I donít want to have a disclaimer for every little task. If the adjustment was tricky or if I felt the frame could not be replaced easily, I would verbally warn the patient that it could break. I would let the patient know that if the frame is out of warranty, our office will not be responsible for replacement. I would also mention the likelihood that the frame may be discontinued and that the lenses will not fit into another frame. If I got the patientís verbal agreement on that point, I would proceed.

How to handle it

Even though we can all look back and see that this unfortunate situation could have been avoided, letís accept that these things still happen. Deciding when to offer a disclaimer is a judgment call and therefore, we may occasionally judge wrong. Well-meaning technicians may not anticipate a breakage. Breakage could be so rare that we let our guard down. We may have staff turnover and a new optician is not trained in these scenarios yet. No office is perfect. Outstanding practices are staffed with people who are eager to please and who try to earn patient loyalty with excellent service. Maybe even win back a patient who left over insurance coverage. I applaud the effort.

In my philosophy of the patient-centric practice, customer service is king. Seeing everything from the patientís point of view and letting the patient win, even if there is a cost to the practice, are cornerstones of excellent service. Patient-friendly policies result in high levels of satisfaction and loyalty. Those factors are extremely valuable and produce far more revenue, indirectly and invisibly, than the immediate expense. Patients are consumers and they know that things occasionally go wrong, but they watch closely to see how any business will respond when mistakes happen.

Here are the important steps to take when the patient perceives that frames or lenses were damaged by your office, assuming no disclaimers were given.

Best wishes for continued success,

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