Article Date: 12/1/2011

Doctor's Office or Luxury Lounge?
Patient's Perspective

Doctor's Office or Luxury Lounge?

Be sure you know your patients before you crank up the boutique atmosphere.

By Jeanette McEwan, as told to Erin Murphy, Contributing Editor

WHEN MY OLD optometrist retired, a coworker with cute eyeglasses pointed me to a new local eye doctor. I'd driven past the place before, a nicely renovated older home on a busy street. When I parked in the lot, I noticed a luxury sedan parked in its own special space alongside the building. It had one of those oval “ACK” (Nantucket) stickers on its bumper.

Subtle Exterior, Flashy Interior

The building and garden were pretty, but they didn't prepare me for what I found inside.

It was like walking into a Starbucks. Leather club chairs and subdued lighting awaited me. A Keurig coffee machine sat on a counter, alongside cream and sugar and paper travel cups. But instead of big pictures of the coffee bean harvest on the walls, this place had poster-size pictures of people wearing eyeglass frames by Gucci, Burberry, Polo and Calvin Klein.

Know Your Audience

But the folks in the waiting room didn't scream Gucci to me — unless Gucci is Italian for geriatric. A husband and wife in their 70s sat low in a pair of chairs, her four-pronged cane alongside her, watching CNN on a brilliant flat screen TV. A woman in her 90s sat on a leather sofa with her daughter, as the latter sifted through an array of glossy magazines.

When the receptionist checked me in, I told her I was there for new eyeglasses. She replied, “Oh, we just received the new line from Chanel and I love them! I'm also going to give you this pamphlet about some really comfortable new contact lenses that some of our patients are getting.” I'm a lifelong glasses-wearer with a new mortgage and two kids in braces, so contact lenses and anything made by Chanel are not in my future. I sat down and watched CNN and read Conde Nast Traveler, and then finally went back for a brief, uneventful exam. The doctor was cheerful, and readily accepted my answer when I politely declined contact lenses.

He passed me on to Cindy, who was “super excited” to show me their selection of designer frames. She and the optician pulled some for me to try. They were all very nice, but half of the frames had crazy-high price tags. The optician asked if I wanted extra lens coatings and prescription sunglasses as though everyone is shelling out for them these days. I'm ashamed to say I felt a little awkward about saying, “That's out of my price range.” It was like I'd labeled myself broke or a cheapskate. Finally, I glanced at my watch and said, “I really have to get back to work. I'll just take my prescription home with me today.”

Over the Top

I bought frames at the mall. That doctor's office was just too much. I felt like I was shopping in a store that I couldn't afford — instead of visiting a medical professional for an exam and new eyeglasses. The staff talked up the expensive products plastered all over the walls. I could hardly blame them – they clearly needed to ell a lot of expensive stuff to pay for the Starbucks waiting room and the sweet car (and maybe his place in Nantucket). But the practice's whole vibe seemed out of sync with its patients, none of whom looked like they would consider $600-plus a reasonable or comfortable price to pay for glasses.

It was like the “haves” built a doctor's office for the “have nots,” and who wants to feel like a “have not”? So I have NOT gone back. 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: December 2011