Optometric Management Tip # 430   -   Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Could you be providing too much patient education?

It's possible to be so focused on what we do that we lose perspective. In an effort to provide outstanding eye care services and to build their practices, some eye care providers (ECPs) overdo it. I've observed many colleagues provide more patient education than the patient actually wants.

Some ECPs really enjoy explaining eye conditions and vision care products to their patients and most are quite good at it. They explain the various tests they perform, the cause of refractive errors, the etiology of eye diseases, and the mechanism of treatment options from contact lenses to eyeglasses to medications. The problem is that in many cases, the patient would have liked about one fourth of the explanation.

Does it hurt anything?
We were all taught that it's a good practice to explain tests and treatments to patients. And many of us have received positive feedback from patients when we explain things. That is what sets us apart from the quickie places that don't really care. Patients like doctors who take time to talk to them, right? Well, to a point. There is a balance; a fine line and it can be very tricky to determine where the line is. After all, patients are going to be polite. Very few people would tell a doctor they aren't really interested in the speech being delivered.

If you overdo the patient education it can actually hurt your practice in two ways:

How do you know when to stop?
This article alone may be enough to make you take an objective view of your usual routine. Keep in mind that patients want some explanation, but a little bit goes a long way with most of them. Not everyone finds the human visual system quite as interesting as we do.

Be aware when patient education crosses over from interesting tidbits to prevention of sight-threatening conditions. In those more serious cases, I would definitely save your words for the high level discussion that is required and let some of the other topics go. For example, we have a duty to inform the glaucoma suspect about how serious that disease is and how there are no symptoms in the early stages. We should also educate the very high myope about the risk of retinal detachment. There are many more cases like these. There is also value in explaining how a toric contact lens works or how a progressive eyeglass lens is designed, even though those are not sight-threatening topics. But keep those explanations simple.

At the very least, be sure you are watching the patient's body language and you may be able to pick up clues about their level of interest. A great technique is to give the patient a few bullet points about a topic and then say... “Just let me know if you'd like more details about that.” In fact, that is an excellent test that can guide you in your future consultations with patients. Try that technique and keep track of how many people ask for more information.

Best wishes for continued success,

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