Article Date: 2/1/2007

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Make Them Feel Important
Everyone needs to feel important, especially your patients.


It took place a number of years ago when I was lecturing at an OptiFair, the forerunner of Vision Expo. Some 8,000 people attended the meeting. A total of 7,992 of them chose to forego attending a lecture I gave.

The only redeeming feature was the presence of a delightful young lady named Barbara White, who worked for Drs. Bennett and Lilly in Beaver Falls, Pa. After every humorous illustrative anecdote I told, she laughed uproariously. When I told her how much I appreciated her enthusiastic response, her unintentional deflating reply was, "My friends say I'll laugh at anything." Then came the crowning blow:

"Do you have any suggestions for improving next year's OptiFair?" was one of the questions on the evaluation form given to each lecture attendee to fill out and give to the course monitor.

"Yes," I later discovered another class attendee had written. "Make this guy stay home in Georgia!"

Word leaked out

A recent similar experience reminded me of the old joke about the Methodist bishop who visited a country church to give the Sermon.

"Did you tell anyone I was coming?" he asked the church's preacher in an aggravated tone, when he discovered only a handful of people in the congregation.

"No, sir!" the preacher replied. "I didn't tell a soul. But word must have leaked out."

I discovered how the bishop must have felt when I was asked to give a talk at a meeting of the local American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) chapter. Only 10 people showed up. Among the missing: the program chairman who had asked me to speak.

So my sense of importance was blasted once again, which reminded me of how everyone needs to feel important and of how it's something to remember in building good patient relations.

Make me feel important

"For the next week, imagine a sign around each patient's neck, which says 'Make Me Feel Important,'" was the suggestion I once heard from a practice management lecturer. I decided to try it.

My first patient after attending this lecture was a 68-year-old lady. She had never had the opportunity to learn to read or write, was of limited intelligence and physically unattractive — not what society would perceive as an important person. But I "saw" the sign around her neck and treated her as if she were Mrs. Rockefeller during the exam.

When I finally pulled the phoropter away, tears were running down her cheeks as she said fervently, "Dr. Runninger, I sure do like you!" I confess I got a little teary-eyed myself, when I realized that this was probably the first time in her entire life that she had ever been treated like an important person.

Dr. Irv Borish
Speaking of important people, I do want to interject a serious note about the most important person the profession of optometry has ever known, Optometry's architect, 94-year-old Irv Borish. Dr. Bill Baldwin has written his biography, entitled "BORISH." It's a fascinating story and also an important history of optometry's development over the past 75 years. To obtain a copy, go to, or call 1-812-855-4447.

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2007