Article Date: 2/1/2013

Managing Pediatric Conjunctivitis
pediatrics

Managing Pediatric Conjunctivitis

Get more pediatric “pink eye” patients through your door with a boost to your marketing and educational efforts.

LINDSEY GETZ, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Many parents’ first instinct is to call their pediatrician when their child gets pink eye. Through the years, O.D.s have found this frustrating:

“Many of the patients I see here do still see their pediatricians for an acute red eye,” admits Ida Chung, O.D., M.S.H.E., F.C.O.V.D., F.A.A.O., associate professor, section chief of pediatrics, S.U.N.Y. College of Optometry in New York. “This points to the importance of having parents view optometrists as the ‘gatekeeper’ of their child’s eye care — including red eye management.”

To foster this view, optometrists require a marketing and educational effort that establishes them as the healthcare provider to whom parents turn for eye-related medical conditions, as well as regular eye exams.

Here, experts share several ways to approach this effort.

Make the point in the chair

Daniel E. Smith, O.D., chief of pediatric primary care at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tenn., says direct communication with the parent during the exam is essential:

“We talk about the importance of eradicating conjunctivitis early and the possibility of inoculating everyone at school or daycare, if not treated early,” says Dr. Smith. “Having an open discussion about pink eye and how we treat it helps position us as the experts on the topic. It’s not uncommon for patients, despite being healthy, to hear or receive unsolicited information focused on the latest treatment for age-related macular degeneration or seasonal allergies, so we shouldn’t overlook disseminating information on the serious nature of an infectious conjunctivitis.”

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It’s important that parents view the optometrist as the “gatekeeper” of their child’s eye care — including red eye management.

Leah Colby, O.D., of EyeWest Vision Clinic & Optical in Minnesota, agrees that repetition in the chair does the best job of establishing the O.D. as the eyecare expert.

“We talk about it every year at the end of the patient’s annual exam to the point where it becomes repetitive,” says Dr. Colby. “We constantly emphasize that we are medical optometrists and that we see cases of pink eye or other eye emergencies regularly. It might not happen overnight, but that message does sink in. The mindset of parents has always been ‘pediatrician first’ so we have to accept that changing that mindset can take time.”

Not all pink eye is the same

Unfortunately, many O.D.s have seen young patients who have been treated for the wrong form of conjunctivitis, so it is important to explain the different types of pink eye to parents, says Dr. Colby. She suggests you talk to patients about the different kinds of symptoms and the fact that not all pink eye is the same. Because some parents may have become accustomed to receiving medication every time they take their child to the pediatrician for pink eye, re-education is also important, she says.

“An antibiotic is not always warranted, but because parents are so used to getting one from the pediatrician you may need to walk them through the reasons why it’s not needed in a particular case,” Dr. Colby explains. “We may say ‘I know you are used to getting a drop at the pediatrician, but the truth is that a cold compress and keeping an eye on the condition is really your best treatment this time.’ Explain to parents that unnecessary antibiotic use can build resistance.”

Pediatrician communication

Dr. Smith says that dictation outlining your diagnosis and treatment of conjunctivitis is not only an important addition to the patient’s medical chart, but also serves as a reminder to the pediatrician that you are the expert in eye health.

“If you send a letter that is well-written and shows how knowledgeable you are in your position, that can become an effective communication tool to show the healthcare professionals in your area that you are well-suited to work with patients’ eye health,” he says.

Those reminders may even help with referrals, says Dr. Chung.

“I find the pediatricians who do send patients our way are the ones we already have a good relationship with,” she says.

“Sending exam summaries to the pediatricians is one way to build that relationship.”

Going a step further, “We invite the pediatricians to come for a lunch presentation that shows the difference between viral or bacterial conjunctivitis,” Dr. Colby says. “This does a couple of things: Because we accept that many parents are still going to the pediatrician for red eyes, it helps ensure that the pediatrician is not misdiagnosing or mistreating the cases they see. It also establishes us as the expert. We emphasize that anytime a patient has a painful eye, the pediatrician should refer the patient to us.”

Maintaining the image

Once you establish yourself as a medical eyecare provider, it’s important to maintain that image. Even your availability can make a big difference in helping patients view you as a medical eyecare provider, say those interviewed.

“We take walk-in appointments for pink eye and other emergencies, and we make sure that our patients are well aware of that,” says Dr. Colby. “Being accommodating and making sure that patients can get in with us right away helps patients realize we take their eye health seriously. We are also available 24/7 on the phone for emergency care.”

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The marketing effort to help establish yourself as the expert for pediatric conjunctivitis may take many forms — all of which help build a reputation in the community at large.

“I think the best way to market to others that optometrists can manage conjunctivitis is to establish a relationship in the community,” says Dr. Chung. Marketing through websites, brochures and patient education all delivers the message that the optometrist can take care of patients’ eyecare needs, she says.

Turning to social media may also help, says Dr. Colby. She says she uses marketing efforts like Facebook posts, blog entries and articles on local sites like Patch.com. Through those outlets, she frequently reminds patients of the practice’s ability — and availability — to handle red eye. “We want to repeat that message in as many ways as we can — not just in the chair but in forums that the patient is seeing at home,” she says. “‘Pediatrician first’ is a habit… We want parents to get to the point where the habit is to always come to us for eye care.” OM

Ms. Getz is a Philadelphia-area-based freelance writer and a former editor of Eyecare Business magazine (a sister publication of OM). E-mail her at lindsey.getz@yahoo.com, or send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Volume: , Issue: February 2013, page(s): 47 48