Great Communication Leads to Loyal Patients
BY CARLA J. MACK, OD, FAAO, EDITOR
I consider myself to be a fairly good communicator. I like to think that my staff and the other doctors in our practice find my "open door policy" inviting, although admittedly I'm still working on improving the whole open-door-policy-inviting-atmosphere thing. I believe making assumptions — whether about patient preferences or that staff will understand my directions — is always a bad idea. I've learned the art of history taking that will elicit detailed responses from patients. But last week, I had two patient experiences just one day apart that made me question the consistency of how well I effectively communicate with patients.
First, the success story. My 52-year-old established female patient was wearing monovision silicone hydrogel contact lenses without visual or comfort complaints. When asked why she was presenting for her comprehensive examination, she replied that she'd need a new contact lens prescription soon and wanted to know what was new and innovative in contact lenses since her last comprehensive examination. This was great, and I believe her exact words were "latest technology." I smiled, thinking that we must be doing a fine job educating our patients that we provide the best, most innovative options and don't take the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" approach. She left just as happy as she had arrived, choosing her current lens modality and material, now well educated on daily disposables and multifocal contact lenses. I have no doubt this patient will be back.
One day later, a 38-year-old established male patient presented with a complaint that he'd lost his prescription sunglasses overseas and wanted to know if there was anything innovative in contact lenses since he last attempted to wear them nine years earlier. His facial expression while asking made it obvious that he assumed there was nothing new. Wow. Had we really not discussed contact lens options or recommended contact lenses to this active professional during the last two years while he'd been under our care? I could find no documentation that we had. I did find documentation stating that he wasn't interested in contact lenses. Is that where the discussion began and ended? We'd missed a mutually beneficial, value-creating opportunity with this patient. Had he not lost his prescription sunglasses he may not have come back. We were given a second chance to build this relationship that will eventually lead to a loyal and profitable contact lens patient.
I often say that when things are going well it's hard to learn and improve. As much as my ego didn't like that communication failure, I recognize that effective communication is hard work and something that frankly most of us can improve upon.