Article Date: 12/1/2006

lessons learned
Embarrassing Headlines

What can headlines teach us about effective patient communications?

JACK RUNNINGER, O.D.

Writing headlines for newspaper articles is a challenging job. They must be composed quickly, fit the allotted space and entice the reader.

Thus, in the attempt to make these headlines catchy and attention grabbing, it's no wonder headline writers can produce embarrassing bloopers. Some actual examples:

"TWO CONVICTS EVADE NOOSE: JURY HUNG"

"ROME PROSTITUTES APPEAL TO POPE"   

"QUEEN MARY HAS BOTTOM SCRAPED"

We are similar to headline writers in that the meaning of what we say to patients can often be interpreted in more than one way. Here are some examples.

Bad day

"I had a bad day yesterday," said comedian Steven Wright. "I was walking down the street, minding my own business, and my contact lens prescription ran out."

Another example: "Why do I need to wear glasses for driving?" asked the patient.

"Because your long distance vision is not good without them," explained the optometrist.

"That's okay then," the patient replied. "At my age, I only drive short distances."

Our local newspaper's assistant op-ed editor informed me of a lady who told her she had been impregnated by artificial "examination."

I've also had patients who've repeated what they thought were their diagnosis. Examples: "stigma" (astigmatism), "guacamole" (glaucoma) and "jungelitis" (conjunctivitis).

Rules made to be broken

I firmly believe that good communication should not be stilted and therefore doesn't always have to strictly follow grammatical rules.

Alabama's Bob Crosby, O.D. reminded me of Winston Churchill's disregard of the "never end a sentence with a preposition" rule. Mr. Churchill demonstrated the idiocy of always following this rule, by saying, "This is the type of interference up with which I will not put."

Perhaps you've heard the story of the country boy who earned a scholarship to Harvard. His first day on campus, he asked an upperclassman, "Where's the library at?"

"I do not answer questions that end in a preposition," was the disdainful reply he received.

"Okay," said the country lad. "Let me rephrase the question: Where's the library at, birdbrain?"

Non-verbal communication

Good patient communication also involves non-verbal attributes. Drew Brooks, O.D. of Brookfield, Wis., e-mailed me about a former patient who returned to his office after more than eight years.

"Don't any of your colleagues have a sense of humor?" she asked. When Dr. Brooks told her he usually smiles, she said, "I know. That's why I came back! The other eye doctors I've gone to never smiled or even made eye contact."

Building good patient relations is also about sincerity and reliability. So, don't be like the man desperate for a parking space when he was running late for an appointment.

"Please, God," he prayed. "If you'll get me a parking space, I promise to double my pledge to the church."

Just then a car backed out of a space right in front of the building. As he pulled into the space, he amended his prayer, "Nevermind, God. I just found one."

JACK RUNNINGER, OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES IN ROME, GA. HE'S ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@COMCAST.NET



Optometric Management, Issue: December 2006