Article Date: 9/1/2012

lessons learned
lessons learned

Pompous Replies: Never a Good Idea

But good communications don't always require straight answers.

Jack Runninger, O.D.

“If’n I take this here castor oil laxative, will I be well enough to get up in the morning?’ began a story in book I wrote about rural folk humor in the hills of north Georgia.

“You sure as heck better be!” sez ole Doc Adams.

Giving proper answers to patients' questions is necessary for good communication.

When I first began practice many moons ago, I unfortunately looked like I was 18 years old.

“How long have you been in practice?” patient's would often ask suspiciously, wondering if I had the necessary experience and knowledge. I would puff up, get on my “high horse,” and pompously tell them about my great education, being class salutatorian, etc. in a desperate attempt to convince them that I was old and wise.

It didn't work

In addition in an effort to appear more mature, I began wearing glasses I didn't need, using the more formal title “Dr. W. J. Runninger” rather than “Jack Runninger.” I even attempted to grow a beard, which came in so scraggly it made me look like an idiot rather than a sage.

I later realized how wrong I'd been, when I heard of how a local neuro-surgeon had handled this problem in a smoother fashion:

My neighbor once needed emergency back surgery, and there was only one neuro-surgeon available.

“He looked like he was in high school,” she told me, “and I didn't much want someone that young cutting on me. So I asked him nervously, ‘Have you ever done one of these operations before?’

“ ‘No, but I've always wanted to try one!’ he joked. Which immediately broke the ice.”

You charge too much

Another problem I had was in trying to explain my fees to patients. I would become quite defensive and pompous in explaining the depth of the examination, the quality of the materials, the integrity of the examiner, etc., which somehow didn't seem to impress them a great deal. I changed my approach when I heard how a friend, the late Dr. Tom Hogshead, handled such matters.

“Geez, I could get these glasses a lot cheaper elsewhere,” would say the patient.

“Yeah, you probably could,” would be Hogshead's only response.

Another example of a wrong way to respond occurred with a dentist friend of mine:

“Your bill is outrageous!” a patient told him when he was first in practice. “You didn't spend but a couple of hours working on me.”

“You're not paying me just for my time,” my friend responded angrily. “You're also paying me for my expensive education, my knowledge, my expensive equipment, and for my office expenses!”

“All by myself?” was the patient's plaintive reply.

An odd figure

Another dentist used a much smoother patient reply. “How much do you charge to pull a tooth?” a patient asked him.

“Fifty dollars,” he replied.

“Why so much? It's only going to take you a couple of minutes.”

“If you prefer, I can extract it very slowly.”

And then there was the answer from an optometrist when a patient asked, “How much is my exam?”

“It's $96.84.”

“Why such an odd figure?”

“Gee, I don't know. Unless it's because I eat between meals.” OM

JACK RUNNINGER, OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES IN ROME, GA. HE'S ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@COMCAST.NET.


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: September 2012, page(s): 22