Article Date: 9/1/2008

Getting Back to Basics
Patient's Perspective

Getting Back to Basics

You may think you're providing top-notch care for your patients, but don't forget the simplest elements of success.

By Erin Murphy, Contributing Editor

"I found them," my boyfriend said, holding up flattened frames, splintered lenses and a single, twisted arm. Apparently, I'd dropped my eyeglasses on the driveway, and his car did the rest. The road-kill eyeglasses were 10 years old, so I needed to find a new optometrist and probably, a new prescription.

Searching for Doctors

I found my new O.D. by checking the Web sites of local practices. The doctor I selected had been in practice 7 years and had taken over his practice from a retired optometrist. He described himself as "up on the latest studies and technologies," and active in state and local academy chapters. He claimed to have a history of providing professional help through charitable causes at home and abroad, and valuing "personal and caring optometry."

A short personal history made him sound outgoing, personable and dedicated. He even mentioned dry eye, which is a problem for me. The perfect match I thought!

Not a Match at All

I could see right away that the doctor had made no changes to the décor of the practice, but its dreary appearance didn't bother me. I'm OK with the practical, unpretentious look. In retrospect, I know the dreariness was a lack of enthusiasm, but I'm not going to dwell on the negative. I'm going to focus on the positive, so here's a list of five essential tips to keep your patients coming back to see you.

1. Say hello and goodbye. Dr. Web site — you know, the active guy with the professional zeal — didn't greet me. In fact, no one did. The receptionist handed me to a man who didn't make eye contact, muttered something and led me to the exam room. Needless to say, don't become this guy. It's important to shake hands and introduce yourself, and always end a visit with thank you and goodbye.

2. Discuss the history. According to my patient history forms, I'm 36; I have mild rosacea; I work on a computer, and I have dry eye symptoms. My doctor made no comment at all about my history. I broached the subject, explaining how often and severely I experience dry eye. I showed him my eye drops. "Keep using those," he said. What a letdown; I was hoping for relief, and I didn't get it.

3. Explain what you're doing. It's a basic rule, but you'd be surprised how many doctors perform an exam without explaining what they're doing. Patients like to hear what the big machine is and if their eyes appear healthy.

4. Explain the prescription. Patients want to know their diagnosis, their visual acuity and when they need to wear their eyeglasses. My doctor was just plain vague. I still don't know when I need my eyeglasses or how poor my vision is, but I hope to find out at my annual exam next year (somewhere else).

5. Send a consistent message. I originally called this article "Web of Lies," but my editor thought it was too dramatic. The optometrist I read about online was not the same doctor I visited. Keep in mind that your Web site and advertising should authentically represent you. The values you express through any media should be reflected in your office and in your interaction with patients.

Gracious Guidelines

I'm sure you're already following these simple guidelines for practice success, but this should serve as a reminder and refresher in basic "bedside" manner. I'd like to believe that my optometrist was the exception, not the rule. So I'm sure I'll have no trouble finding a good doctor next year — and I can't wait to find out exactly what's wrong with my eyes! nOD

Editor's note: Periodically, new OD will explore eye care from the patient's perspective. Whether you have a special interest in contact lenses, low vision or pediatric care, you'll find out from real patients what attracts them to a practice and keeps them coming back.

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2008