As optometrists, we are rightfully proud of our lens prescriptions that help people to see better and improve their lives. The vast majority of these prescriptions work out very well and patients are extremely happy. But, what about the glasses that are not working so well? As a percentage, this number may seem small, but many ODs are not even aware of the actual number per week. We may think we don’t want to know about those unhappy outcomes and just let the staff handle them, but mistakes do happen and these patients deserve special attention to correct any deficiencies in their care. I’m convinced that many practices are damaged by weak efforts to work with unhappy patients.
How does your office handle eyeglass problems?
Many practices are set up with policies that make it a slightly difficult for patients with eyeglass complaints to see the doctor. With good intentions, most ODs empower opticians and other staff members to “do whatever it takes” to make patients happy! It sounds good, but what if the opticians don’t know what to do? What if after all their best troubleshooting, the staff takes their best shot at fixing a problem and it turns out to not fix it?
Multiple attempts at remaking eyeglasses (without success) quickly cause the patient to lose confidence. It becomes clear that the practice does not know what they are doing. Unfortunately, this happens fairly often. Some of these patients will just ask for a refund and others will quietly find a different optometrist next time they need an eye exam. Virtually all of these patients will tell other people about their horrible experience. Optical labs may absorb the cost of one remake, but additional ones carry a product cost to the practice. Those outcomes cause real damage to the practice.
Let them see the OD!
In my opinion, we should make it much easier to see the prescribing doctor for a no charge recheck when the patient has a visual complaint with new glasses purchased from your office. If we really cared about the success of this patient, from both a clinical and business perspective, we would recheck all the major factors in the prescription. If we can fix the problem the first time and get it done quickly, we can save the patient relationship, help the practice reputation and keep cost of goods lower.
I think we should pull out all the stops in troubleshooting a pair of glasses that are not working well. I think we should let the optical staff work on the problem and also let the OD recheck the refraction and review the plan for the remake (seg heights, PD, base curves, lens material, brand, etc.). What is the worst that can happen? The OD might see a patient who could have been handled by the staff. To me, having better outcomes on these at-risk patients makes the office visit well worthwhile. The goodwill and confidence perceived by the patient is extremely valuable.
What are your roadblocks?
Optometrists today are increasingly delegating all things optical to staff. Some of these staff members have excellent training and skills in optical and some don’t. Regardless of the skill level, a better outcome is achieved when two or more experts review the case and decide on the plan. ODs today do not receive as much training in optical dispensing as they once did, but that really does not matter. We still receive excellent training in the human visual system and the scientific process. That is what we need. Don’t cop out and say you don’t know anything about glasses. You know plenty.
Here is a quick checklist of factors that can impede a positive outcome:
Is the doctor willing to see the patient?
Can the patient be seen quickly? It may be necessary to hold back a few appointments per week or per day so urgent needs can be met. This includes any patients we want to see quickly, such as medical eye emergencies and new eyeglass complaints.
Does the doctor or staff have an attitude? Does the doctor take the complaint personally, like a criticism of professional skill?
Is the doctor defensive (assumes a position that he/she was right and the patient is imagining the problem)?
If the staff and doctor act as if they want to see the patient and they give no hint of annoyance, then no one will focus on whose fault it was. Move past that and don’t be sensitive.
What kind of problems
Obviously, there are many optical problems that the staff can handle without the doctor. The main factor might be if vision is part of the complaint. If the complaint is frame fit, quality, product selection or frame comfort, the optician can handle it. If the complaint is about vision, I’d get the OD involved.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.