Do Patients Know Enough About Optometry?
Are your patients seeking the care of other healthcare professionals because they don't know your scope of practice? You can fix that by educating them.
BY RICHARD S. KATTOUF, O.D., D.O.S., Warren, Ohio
What do consumers (patients) think of optometrists? The standard answer is that optometrists "sell" glasses and contact lenses. When I tell curious strangers that I'm an optometrist, they always make comments about eyeglasses and contact lenses. Never have they mentioned medical eye care, therapeutic pharmaceutical agents
(TPAs), diagnostic pharmaceutical agents (DPAs), developmental vision,
orthoptics, corneal refractive therapy (CRT), computer vision syndrome, ocular emergencies, low vision or co-management.
The vast majority of optometric practices and corporate vision providers are generic in their mode of optometric delivery and patients can only define us through their experiences in our offices. Dentistry and medicine have done a tremendous job of educating the public about their specific professional services. Don't hold your breath waiting for your state optometric association or a national optometric association to define modern optometry to the public -- history has shown a marginal effort. Thus, we must take matters into our own hands.
Getting the message out
It's important that patients understand the full range of services that are available to them through our offices. Imparting this knowledge increases patient respect for our profession and consequently increases our earning potential as they seek our care rather than the care of other professionals for eye-related matters.
The following are some suggested ways that you can educate your patients on the topic:
► Make sure that you script each patient and explain what technicians and doctors are doing. Educate, motivate and make them enthusiastic. Stress what you're doing medically and let the patient know when specialization applies. For example, you should give every patient who is a CRT candidate written material on the subject followed by a consultation with you or one of your technicians.
► Evaluate what you're teaching the patient when performing binocular direct
ophthalmoscopy, biomicroscopy, direct ophthalmoscopy, retinal photography, retinal imaging or corneal topography. Each script must include the following:
- An explanation of what you're doing to the patient, stressing medical diagnostic issues.
- An explanation of why you're doing what you're doing to the patient (stress the medical reasons).
- An explanation of why you must perform this procedure every year (emphasize medical prevention issues).
By concentrating on the above three scripting techniques, you'll turn out patients who realize that their optometric visit was a medical experience and that it's as preventive in nature as going to their dentist.
► When you purchase a new piece of equipment, make sure that you educate (using a script) each patient about it whether you use it on him or not.
► Train your staff regarding the full scope of optometry. You can't teach patients about modern optometry unless you school every
► Develop telephone scripts to properly educate consumers as questions come in. In my consulting, I observe many offices with multiple assistants answering the phone. Unfortunately, they each have their own answers to patient questions. All patients should receive the same answer to the same question. That's why it's important to standardize the training and educating of all staffers.
► Many consumers who are happy with their optometrist seek the care of their family M.D. for the treatment of "red eye." The family practitioner isn't well versed in handling such problems, yet the consumer doesn't know that O.D.s are experts in this area. We can solve this lack of education and knowledge by:
- Developing written brochures that explain services that optometrists can perform and which ones you offer. (Hand these out to all patients.)
- Marketing externally with an emphasis on medical and specialty care.
- Insisting on seeing surgical referrals for the one-day postoperative visit and the entire co-management period (if your states allows such care). This enables you to put your signature on all medicines prescribed for treatment and recovery. This is important because, in patients' minds, the "real doctor" writes the medical prescriptions.
Concentrating on these type of issues creates the proper professional imagery that optometry commands.
► Getting out in the community to lecture on modern optometry. Look into teacher workshops, psychology workshops, parent-teacher associations, service organizations, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and business organizations. Stress optometry's medical and specialty areas in these lectures so you get the information to the public and build your practice.
► Writing reports to other professionals and sending a copy to the patients when treating medical problems or rendering specialty care. This helps develop the professional imagery of optometry.
Raise patient awareness
Each and every one of us has an obligation to develop and raise the professional image of our great profession. Optometric educators and institutions as well as state laws
(TPA and DPA) are on our side -- use them.
The financial future of independent optometry depends on the mode of practice that I have described in this article. In my many years of management consulting, I have transformed hundreds of practices from general, run-of-the-mill operations to specialized medical optometric organizations. The results have always been increased income, better professional image and less stressed practitioners. So educate your patients about all that your practice has to offer. The benefits are great, so go ahead -- invest the time.
Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies. For information, call (800) 745-EYES or e-mail him at
Optometric Management, Issue: November 2004