Article Date: 2/1/2011

Ask the Question: Would You?
lessons learned

Ask the Question: Would You?

You need to walk through your practice wearing your patient's shoes.

Jack Runninger, O.D.

“Where are the monkeys?” asked the lady of the zookeeper.

“It's mating season, and they're all inside their shelter,” he replied.

“I sure would like to see them. Do you think they'd come out if I threw some peanuts in their cage?”

“Gee, I don't think so,” said the zookeeper. “Would you?”

The lady showed no empathy, which is a critical quality for doctors to possess. In dealing with patients, it's important to view things from their standpoint. I found that if I wasn't careful, I tended to instead look at things only from my own viewpoint.


As you know, one of optometry's problems is the misconception by many that there's some sort of magic dividing line between needing glasses and not needing glasses.

“He/she sold me a pair of glasses when I didn't need them!” one of your patients complains to everyone. Unfortunately, this seems to always happen to the patient with the biggest mouth in town.

Most patients don't understand that it is often a difficult judgment as to whether glasses should be prescribed. One patient is helped immeasurably by a small correction, while another may check as needing a stronger one, and yet get along satisfactorily without it.

Empathizing can often help in making this decision. When I had one of these doubtful cases, I would say to myself, “Knowing what I do about vision, if I were in this patient's shoes, would I feel the probability of glasses helping outweighs the disadvantage of their trouble and expense?”


It helps the patient understand if you verbalize your empathy. For example, I found it helpful to precede an explanation to a parent with the statement, “If this was my child, with my knowledge of vision, this is what I would want.” Or, “I can't guarantee glasses will help your problem. However, there is a good enough chance they will. If I were in your shoes, I would want to try it.”

Another helpful method I found was to let the patient make the choice. After explaining and demonstrating the problem, if I was unsure as to whether to prescribe glasses or not, I'd say something like, “There is a 50% chance that glasses will help your headaches (for example). Are they bothering you enough to want to wear glasses?”

“They are really bothersome, and if you think there's a 50% chance, I'd like to try it.” Or; “No, they really aren't giving me too much trouble — I just wanted to make certain there wasn't anything seriously wrong,” were invariably the answers I would receive.


Doesn't always pay

Unfortunately empathizing with others isn't always rewarded. Like the experience of a preacher who heard a young boy praying in his church.

“Please, God, could you send me $100? My dad is dead, my mother is sick, and we don't have any food,” prayed the boy.

Empathizing with the lad's problem, the preacher handed him an envelope with $50 in it. The next day, he heard the boy again praying:

“Thank you for the money, God. But next time could you please send it direct instead of through the preacher? He kept half of it for himself.” OM


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2011