Article Date: 1/1/2004

fix this practice
Sending Nonverbal Messages
Your appearance and that of your office and staff speak volumes.
By Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.



Q You have lectured extensively on paying attention to detail. How does this relate to the appearance and dress of doctors and their staffs?

Dr. R. L. Jacks, Via e-mail

A: Optometry is a unique profession in that our delivery of care occurs on different levels, depending on mode of practice (independent, corporate or commercial).

To get a picture of what I'm talking about, visualize the appearance and language skills of the reception staffs at a Ritz Carlton, a Holiday Inn and a Motel Six.

As an O.D., do you want to project the highest level of professionalism or to exemplify the "store" mode of optometry? Ultimately, the choice is yours. Do you and your staff project the type of appearance and language that are appropriate to match the attention to detail of true professionals?


Keeping up appearances

In management and in life there's a saying: "Your body is a billboard." This doesn't mean that you and your staff have to exhibit abdominal six packs, but your weight, body type, grooming, condition and style of clothing should set an example for your staff and your patients. Our profession requires us to be detail oriented. We must be perfect, not just close, with our end-point refraction and treatment with medications. Should we not exhibit the same detail in all areas of our office?

Organize your SOPs

Write standard operating procedures (SOPs) that define the type of detail you demand from your employees. Include proper dress and appearance, position of name tags, nails, hair, breath and general hygiene. As the leader (doctor) you must set the bar high and to implement these SOPs, your staff must see you as being above that bar. Paying attention to the details of your appearance is a nonverbal message.

Improving the nonverbal cues

Dr. Limura (not his real name) called my consulting company complaining of lack of practice growth and some level of patient erosion. Dr. Limura's general appearance and that of his staff sent a negative message. He was obese and unkempt and his staff had no defined boundaries concerning appearance and nonverbal cues.

After defining this as a problem, I convinced Dr. Limura to adjust his diet and improve his grooming. I established a code of appearance for him that included a three-quarter length clinical coat, scheduled workouts for four days each week and impeccably laundered and pressed clothing.

I also set staff boundaries that included uniforms, name tags, fingernail appearance, hair and general grooming. The improvement in appearance and morale was outstanding. The doctor and his staff projected themselves at a much higher level than they had in the past and new patients quickly realized that Dr. Limura is more than "just an optometrist." With my assistance, he had separated himself from the crowd.

Pay attention to detail

Medicare classifies us as optometric physicians, but the public isn't aware that we're real doctors. Therefore, each individual office must meet its obligation to optometry by educating every patient as to our profession's level of health care. Our nonverbal messages are part of the answer.

Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies.  For information, call (800) 745-EYES or e-mail him at The information in this column is based on actual consulting files.


Optometric Management, Issue: January 2004