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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor February 7, 2007 - Tip #264 
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What if you break the patient's glasses?

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Additional Information

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 "insurance changes" 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 "rolling over on them". 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 patient's property in the same or better condition as when we accept it. In cases when your office can't or won't 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 can't guarantee the outcome. The disclaimer can be in writing or verbal. I use a written form that the patient signs whenever we accept a patient's 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 patient's 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 don't 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 patient's 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, let's 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 patient's 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.

  • Always be forthright in admitting that you damaged a frame or lens. Nothing is more important than honesty. Never hope a patient will not discover a defect that you caused. Once you bring the matter up, it usually goes quite well! Teach all staff this principle.
  • Owners and managers should not breed a culture where staff members are afraid to be honest by expecting perfection or by getting angry over a mistake. Obviously, if mistakes happen often, retraining or reassignment must occur, but there is no need to ever become angry.
  • Apologize to the patient. Unfortunately, many staff members and doctors never use the words "I'm sorry". It is really all the patient wants to hear. Take the blame.
  • Definitely absorb the costs to make the situation right. Replace the frame at no charge. If that frame is not available anymore, help the patient choose a new one and have new lenses made for it at no charge. The good side of this is that the patient understands that he has chosen a practice with integrity.
  • If the patient thinks you scratched his lens while adjusting or repairing the glasses, but you know that is not true, replace it at no charge anyway. Apologize and order the replacement with a smile. Remember, this would have been avoided if you had inspected the lenses in front of the patient before taking the glasses away to the lab.
  • Don't worry when you suspect that a person is trying to take advantage of your practice. It's so rare that it is really not a problem. Some people simply require much more care than others and our effort is to satisfy everyone.
  • Don't lose any sleep over these situations and don't let them ruin your day. These problems are only stressful if you allow them to be. It's all small stuff and it's part of owning a business. Smile and move on. You win in the end by building a practice that's in great demand.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

A Proud Supporter of

Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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