Article Date: 2/1/2003

lessons learned
Misery Loves Company
A patient tries to replace his lenses.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

Have you ever had situations where you and/or your staff really screwed up? I sure did when I was in practice! And it seemed like every time a screw up occurred, it was with a patient who had a mean streak and a big mouth -- the kind who would broadcast it all over town. Thus, because of the "misery loves company" principle, I enjoyed reading a column from HomeLife magazine, sent to me by Dr. David Duval. It described a contact lens replacement episode even worse than any my office had suffered.

The column was written by a pastor about his experience in replacing his lost contact lenses. When he phoned his optometrist's office, a staff member told him it would take six days to do so.

The preacher's story

I said, "I'm really in a hurry. Surely it can't take six days? I'll do whatever it takes to speed up the process."

"We don't make them here," [she said.] "We have to mail the prescription to the dispenser and then they mail the contacts back. The process takes six days."

I said, "Okay. I'll pay you for a long distance phone call, and you can call and give the prescription for my contacts. I'll even pay for them to overnight them back. Then I can come here tomorrow afternoon and pick them up."

"You couldn't pick them up even if they arrived tomorrow. The lab assistant must look at them to make sure they're okay before you can have them."

In response I said, "Call me after the lab looks at them, and I'll come get them."

She said, "It takes six days."

Finally I asked to speak to the office manager. Again I expressed my willingness to pay for a long distance phone call, overnight express service fee, and whatever else it would take to get the contacts in less than six days.

"Oh, sure," he said. "I can do that for you."


Six days indeed!

The next day I called, and the contacts weren't there yet. The day after that, they still weren't there. Finally, on the sixth day I decided to try again.

I went back to the office and asked, "Where are my contacts?"

The lady responded, "Well, it takes six days."

I said, "This is the sixth day. Are my contacts here now?"

She replied, "I don't know. We haven't checked the mail yet. That's the office manager's job, and he's not here yet."

Just then the office manager walked into the room. I asked, "Is the mail here?"

He said, "Oh, I forgot to check the mail. I'll be right back." He came back and said, "Here are your contacts."

As I started to leave, the lady said, "The lab assistant has to look at them. And I hate to tell you this, but she is home sick today. If you promise not to wear these, you can take them home, but you must bring them back tomorrow."

Identifying the lesson

In the balance of his column, the pastor told of how despite his anger toward such incompetence, on further thought he decided that God was teaching him patience.

Could this possibly be the answer when similar experiences happen in your practice? All you have to do is convince patients that it's not your fault? That God is testing their patience?

If you're brave enough to take this approach, be sure to let me know if it works.

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM.

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2003