Article Date: 12/1/2000

I finally figured this out: If you want a successful practice, treat patients the way you want to be treated. If you want a really successful practice, treat patients the way they want to be treated.

Acting as we thought we should

Remember when we first graduated from optometry school, and we knew a lot less than we thought we did? Back then, we acted as we thought a doctor should. More than likely, that meant relating to patients in a forced, artificial way � like the doctors we watched on T.V. as kids.

Most of us quickly came to discover that real patients didn't appreciate this "plastic" approach and wanted to relate to us on a more personal level. So, as we became more comfortable with ourselves, we began injecting more and more of our personalities into patient exams.

My grandfather referred to this as bedside manner. According to him, if you had good bedside manner and parked a Cadillac outside of your office, you had it made.

Even so, it took a few years, but I finally realized that patients weren't coming to me to hear stories about my summer vacation. They came because I'd become a pretty decent doctor.

One of the secrets of my growing clinical skills was a strong desire to improve as a doctor. The goal I set for myself was to treat each patient as I'd want to be treated � as if he was the only person in the world at that time.

I'm sure the concept isn't new to you and that many, if not most O.D.s, have gone through the same metamorphosis. What higher compliment could you pay a patient than to treat him exactly as you'd want to be treated?

A different approach

I pondered that very question the other day as I sat waiting for a flight to take off. I fly so often that the comments from the cockpit usually drone in the background, almost unnoticed. But this time, what the pilot said caught my attention.

Most pilots sound confident and to the point; probably much like how they think a pilot should sound. Some of the more caring ones will add detail to try to put passengers at ease. They share facts about the flight plan or the weather. Most often, it sounds like they're talking to another pilot. "We'll be cruising at 30,000 with some light chop at the lower altitudes." That kind of "pilot-speak" makes for good jokes.

However, this pilot explained why we would be cruising at a lower altitude, discussed what it meant in simple terms and then went over the flight plan in the context of the day's news. It didn't take more than 2 minutes, but it clearly set the passengers at ease. I realized that I felt safer than I usually do with a guy like that at the controls.

Since day one

Face it, flying is scary for those of us who don't know how to pilot a plane. We blindly trust our fate to someone who can. That feeling isn't all that different from what many of our patients experience during an exam.

Most passengers are not pilots; most patients are not doctors. By treating the passengers the way they wanted to be treated, rather than how he wanted to be treated, the pilot made that flight an unusually positive experience and I perceived him as confident and skilled.

And that's exactly what I've been trying to do since the day I first opened my practice.

If you'd like to contact Dr. Epstein via e-mail, you can send your comments or questions to him at:

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2000