Optometric Management Tip # 27   -   Wednesday, July 24, 2002
A 10 Point Checklist for Interpersonal Skills

How you act with each individual patient can have a powerful impact on your practice growth. Yet, many excellent doctors never even think about how they act or what they say in the exam room. They have a job to do and they go about getting it done.

Interpersonal skills come easily to some, and are difficult for others, but if practice growth is one of your goals, it is smart to pay attention to it. See if you consistently perform each item on this checklist when you examine patients. If not, commit the list to memory and be sure to touch every point.

  • Smile Ė donít be so serious

    Optometrists do have major responsibilities during an exam, but patients arenít impressed by serious and somewhat scary doctors. Serious behavior is usually interpreted as rude or arrogant. Keep in mind that patients may be a little nervous or worried about the exam. A smile is contagious and it makes you friendly and caring. Over time, it builds good reputations.

  • Shake hands

    It doesnít matter anymore if the patient is male, female or even a youngster Ė extend your hand in a friendly manner. It builds relationships. Not too firm, by the way, you can actually hurt some people.

  • Talk non-optometry first

    Donít jump right into the case history. Talk about the weather, sports, the patientís job, or a hobby that you made a note of at the last visit.

  • Say the patientís name

    You canít build a relationship without using a personís name. Ask how to pronounce it if your not sure, then write it phonetically in the record. Use Mr. or Mrs. for folks older than you, until they advise you otherwise. Say the patientís name occasionally in conversation Ė but donít overdo it so it sounds phony.

  • Wash your hands in front of the patient

    If your exam room does not have a sink, call a plumber right away. This speaks volumes about everything in your practice.

  • Explain tests as you do them

    Do this in extremely simple terms and keep it very short. This can cross over to boring very quickly.

  • Summarize the exam results

    Stop writing and look the patient in the eye at the end and review all the major parts of the exam. Include the pre-test data. Present normal findings as good news.

  • Give treatment options; then recommend the best

    As you discuss your treatment plan, list the patientís choices, even if you think they might not be interested. Then be sure to recommend what you think is the best option and state why. Always include the recall date and reason in your exam summary.

  • Ask: ďDo you have any questions?Ē

    This is a great way to close your visit and it gives the impression that you have all the time in the world, while implying that you are getting ready to end the exam.

  • Say thank you as you leave the patient.

    A thank you is very polite and considerate. It is humble and anti-arrogant. You are thanking the patient for choosing your practice for eye care.

  • Best wishes for continued success,

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