Connections Count

Three tips to build your collaborative care network

Full-scope, quality comprehensive patient care requires collaboration with doctors who specialize in many different disciplines, such as ocular surgery. New, or recent, optometry school graduates have a tactical advantage in establishing these relationships because they’re new to the area, and thus, other area doctors will be interested in the optometrist as a new source of referrals.

Here, I provide tips on how to form these networks successfully.


The O.D. should amass a list (i.e. online search) of all the local doctors in the following patient-popular categories:

  • Allergy
  • Cornea/Cataract/LASIK
  • Endocrinology/Diabetes
  • Glaucoma
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary care (PCP)
  • Retina
  • Vision therapy

In terms of doctor-selection criteria, these doctors should share the optometrist’s philosophies on patient care (e.g. similar bedside manner), respect the collaborative care relationship (e.g. active communication) and be relatively easy to work with (e.g. similar personality).

Once the O.D. has this list, she can reach out as the newbie via a phone call and/or letter to break the ice!


Now, the optometrist can invite one or more of the receptive specialists out for coffee, lunch or dinner. (This can be intimidating. Trust me when I say don’t worry about the cost of the meal: Most established practitioners looking to build a relationship that will ultimately help build their business won’t let a new, or recent, graduate pay.)

I recommend preparing a few questions in advance that will drive the conversation to determine the specialists’ preferences, protocols and, overall, what they’re like. An example question: “Do you have a specific post-op protocol you like co-managing doctors to follow?”


Once the O.D. has connected with the area doctor, I suggest she ask whether she could visit the practice as a means of getting to know the doctor further. The optometrist is scoping out what the office looks like and what impressions her patients might get when first entering the practice. Additionally, the optometrist is listening to conversations of patients and staff for their attitudes toward the practice and patient care, respectively, observing how the doctor greets patients and how he/she speaks to them. If everything meets expectations, keep the relationship going.


Collaborative care relationships take time and effort to cultivate. Beyond the O.D. referring patients to her network of doctors, it’s important she keep in contact with these specialists on a personal level yearly, at minimum, and more frequently if available: “Hey! Just wanted to check in and see how you’ve been.” Sending letters (even a simple one-page document) to the PCP/internist of every diabetic patient, the pediatrician of every pediatric patient and proper post-op notes for cataract patients, as examples, is also critical to show you’re invested in their patients’ care and working together.

Comprehensive patient care is a team effort and, much like any other relationship, the more we put in to it, the more we’ll get out. Dare to swipe right, and begin a collaborative care relationship. OM