Article Date: 1/1/2013

Business Strategies
business strategies

Second That Emotion

When treating patients, remember to dispense emotional support.


Gary Gerber, O.D.

A professor in optometry school told us, “You’ll never have a pair of eyes walk into your office without a person attached.” So far, he’s been correct. His point: Consider the patient’s systemic health when assessing any ocular conditions. Recently, I’ve consulted in the veterinary industry and noted that a vet never has a dog walk into his office without an owner (hopefully attached on a leash).

If we need to be very aware of the person attached to a patient’s eyes, does a vet need to treat a dog owner? While it’s unlikely they need to provide medical treatment, should they deliver emotional support or reassurance? I’ve concluded that clinical prowess being equal, vets who overtly “treat” pet owners and acknowledge their commitment to their pets have more success than those who don’t.

From pets to contact lenses

And this has what to do with contact lenses?

It’s highly likely that a patient will come into your office today and say, “I can’t wear my contact lenses as long as I’d like. They’re uncomfortable and dry at the end of the day.”

For most of us, our first instinct is to consider changing the lens polymer or care system. After that, we’d think of addressing possible systemic issues of dryness from perhaps medication or general health. Yet few would say to the patient, “That’s unfortunate, and it must be frustrating to not be able to use the lenses as you’d like. Let’s work together to try and find a solution for you. Thanks for calling the drying concern to my attention.”

What’s at the core of that presentation? Consider this: Your dog isn’t eating and is lethargic. You take him to the vet. The vet says, “He has an infection and needs to take this medicine.” You give the dog the medicine. Problem solved.

Now, consider this interaction: The vet says, “That’s horrible. You must be quite concerned that Fido isn’t eating and isn’t chipper. You were smart to bring him in to see us, and we’ll work hard to figure out what’s going on and arrive at a solution for you and him.”

The second vet is treating the emotional well-being of the owner, as well as the dog’s condition. Here, I’d argue the vet is establishing a stronger connection with the owner, which will result in a more loyal patient and more referrals.

Acknowledge patients

In our case, we need to acknowledge the emotional state of our patients. In our contact lens patient example, end-of-day dryness has become such a common complaint, that it’s been reduced to white noise. As such, while we don’t necessarily ignore the problem, we certainly rarely address it in the context of the patient’s global desire to continue receiving the benefits of wearing contact lenses. Keep in mind that a patient, especially a new wearer, might think you’ll tell them, “I guess that means you can’t wear contact lenses.” For many, the prospect of that discussion might be enough for them to avoid visiting your office.

It behooves you to establish a culture of caring that goes beyond simple small talk about where a patient’s kids go to college or what they think of the Yankees blowing the playoffs. Talk to them, and address any concerns in a genuine heartfelt way — no matter how inconsequential the issue may seem. Congratulate them for being astute enough to alert you.

Now that you’ve read this, the real test will be how you’ll handle a dog that has dry eyes and is waiting in your exam room. OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: January 2013, page(s): 55